Ocean Avenue (Acoustic)

Yellowcard - Ocean Avenue (Acoustic)

Welcome back to another round of the Roundtable – an article revolving around a much-anticipated album and the discussion it inspires amongst a handful of staff members. Today’s roundtable article features Jason Tate, Craig Manning, Ryan Gardner, Cody Nelson and myself discussing Yellowcard’s latest release, Ocean Avenue Acoustic. Throughout the discussion we touched on which renditions were executed the best, favorite moments on the release, and why this album has affected so many pop-punk fans. So pick up your copy of Ocean Avenue Acoustic, put the needle down, and check out the latest Roundtable discussion in the replies. – Drew Beringer

Jason Tate: I’ve written before about how I can trace most moments of my life through music. My first year in college was timed almost perfectly with Yellowcard’s release of Ocean Avenue – that album has forever been etched in my heart for what it meant to me as I left the comfort of home and went to California for school.

Starting a long-distance relationship (boy was that stupid), there wasn’t any song that defined that first year for me more than “Back Home.”

Another sunny day in Californ-i-a
I’m sure back home they’d love to see it
But they don’t know that what you love is ripped away
Before you get a chance, before you get a chance to feel it..

I played that album until it wore out my disc-player (remember those?). And even though my musical tastes have changed over the years, it’s an album that I can still go back to and quickly find the memories of walking around campus with headphones on flooding back. I can almost feel all those emotions of fear, doubt, and insecurity creep around the edges of my psyche … and the strength that listening to Ocean Avenue helped instill in me as a boy faking his way to being a man. It’s that kind of album. It’s that kind of experience.

Now it’s been 10 years and the band’s revisiting their breakthrough album with acoustic renditions — and while the songs are the same ones we all know and love — they come with the extra pressure of having so much emotion already tied to them. My experience with the acoustic version of Ocean Avenue is that the songs are a new take on my favorites without feeling out of place and without feeling as though the band just crapped this release out to cash in on nostalgia. The minor changes in arrangements feel well thought out, as care has obviously gone into crafting an album that surely means as much to the band as it does the fans. I’m finding new things to love in re-thought out back-up vocals and subtle new melodic changes.

Basically, I love this thing. It’s exactly what I wanted when I heard there was going to be an acoustic version of one of my favorite albums. For as much as Taking Back Sunday’s “acoustic album” disappointed — this one succeeds. "Empty Apartment" is hauntingly good. Ryan sounds amazing. The little changes in "One Year, Six Month" sound great and definitely do justice to one of my favorite Yellowcard songs. LP’s drumming is a lesson in being present but showing skill in restraint — I think it’s one of the highlights to the album. I find myself believing that “Twenty Three” is better here than the actual “electric” version and that 10 years later listening to these songs can still bring a smile to my face. In fact, hearing them through the lens of “adulthood” can’t stop me from looking back at who I was when I was heading off to college and looking at everything that has transpired over the past 10 years. Life changed, my love for music didn’t.

I’m not even close to the same person I was 10 years ago, but I still find the same comfort in the songs. And we could debate the role that nostalgia plays in hearing something like this album until we’re blue in the face — the truth is, that doesn’t matter all that much to me. There were two possible outcomes when I first hit play on this one: 1) I hated it and thought it sounded like a watered down version of all the songs I had built up in my head to mean so much, 2) I absolutely loved it and it began crafting its own little place inside my head with a new set of memories attached to it.

I was singing “Way Away” at the top of my lungs less than 30 seconds later. It was option two and it’s not even close.

Drew Beringer: The most important thing for me heading into my first listen of Ocean Avenue Acousticwas if the re-recordings maintained the same heart and passion as the electric version 10 years ago. A lifeless reinterpretation would have been crushing to those who regard the original album so highly. It helps that this isn't Yellowcard's first time at the rodeo as they knocked it out of the parked a few years ago when they released an acoustic version of its comeback album, When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes. But doing an entire stripped down recording of such a classic pop-punk album is still a risky maneuver, considering the hit singles from Ocean Avenue were packed with so much energy. After a few listens, my fears were calmed and I was soon tapping my foot and singing along to each song on Ocean Avenue Acoustic. The hits still sound amazing, even reinvigorated. The title track and "Way Away" are outstanding, while my personal favorites "Breathing" and "Believe" still sound massive despite being unplugged. As Jason mentioned, "Empty Apartment" is just hair-raisingly good and the subtle changes in melodic and composition are all executed very well. It's definitely a cool think for a band to do on its 10th anniversary instead of just the expected tour. I wish more bands would do this (imagine an acoustic Take This To Your Grave) but also something that not every band can pull off (hello TAYF10). 

Craig Manning: I think I'm unique among Yellowcard fans in that, while I adore Ocean Avenue, and while it was one of my first real "summer soundtrack" albums, I think the band has reached a peak with their past two or three records that Avenue rarely approaches (more on that later). I consider last year's Southern Air to be the band's magnum opus, and I love When You're Through Thinking... almost as much. Even Paper Walls might have an edge over Ocean Avenue if I ever ranked the band's discography. With that said though, these songs hold a lot of memories, both for me and for the hundreds of other fans who first fell in love with music when they heard the sun-soaked strains of "Ocean Avenue" sailing across the radio airwaves in the summer of 2004, and I can hardly describe how welcoming it felt when I first pressed play on my advance stream of Ocean Avenue Acoustic. This release is safe, sure. Most of the songs don't get major changes, and when they do, like with the down-the-octave, low-key take on "Empty Apartment," the results are so stunning that most will wish the band took a few more chances in reinventing the songs. But it's hard to complain with an album you love this much. From the mercurial rush of "Way Away" to the foot-tapping tempo of "Breathing," the title track's perfect summer atmosphere to the larger-than-life chorus of "Only One," these acoustic renditions feel like old friends, like reminders of how much this album meant to so many of us back in the day.

By the time the record gets to its one-two punch conclusion, with a piano-led take on "One Year, Six Months" and a nostalgic reinvention of "Back Home" (still, in my humble opinion, the band's best song), I was taking a page out of Jason and Drew's books and belting along with every word. As someone who has played "Back Home" religiously on the last night of summer every year since this album first came out, this re-release feels especially poignant. I can't say how happy it makes me to see that, not only are we still listening to this album and remembering how it felt to hear it for the first time on those youthful summer nights, we are also having these conversations when the band in question isn't washed up or living in the shadow of these songs, but surpassing them and living proudly at the top of their game.

Ryan Gardner: From the moment I first saw the “Ocean Avenue” video on MTV – wow, just think about that statement for a second – I fell in love with Yellowcard. I was 9 years old and had spent a year blasting Good Charlotte and Sum 41. This amusing video, the catchy chorus, violin – this was everything I loved about music wrapped up into a song. Since my neighbor had recently told me about iTunes around this time, I can remember he and I slowly gathering the entirety of Ocean Avenue. Together, we each ended up getting the whole album through slowly purchasing the tracks on iTunes. As a result, each song on this album hit me at a different time. Still, the odd thing is that it wasn’t until a few months after having originally heard “Ocean Avenue” that I heard the entire album. This is strange for me to even think about, considering now I almost entirety listen to my music album-by-album, front to back. However, there’s something to be said about the way I heard each song on Ocean Avenue, because it allowed me to thoroughly enjoy each individual track as a separate piece of art.

To this day, this album still holds just as strong for me, and Yellowcard are still one of the most consistent bands out there. This proves true throughout the acoustic rendition of Ocean Avenue. What’s even more impressive is that there are actually some of these moments that I like better on this version than the original – or at least, that hit home more at this current moment. The piano touches on “One Year, Six Months” give it even more a poignant tug than the original, as others have stated, while “Only One” carries a more relaxed emotion that gives the song an entirely different feel all together. These cuts may not be better than the original, so to speak, but they do a tremendous job highlighting different parts of songs – perhaps parts that may not have hit you that hard ten years ago as they do now. Not only did I grow up with this album and band, I grew older with them. I met one of my best friends in high school while sitting in the back of a classroom talking about When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes as a junior. Listening to these renditions, I’m back in my old neighborhood growing up, and I’m also thinking about how much I have grown up just as Yellowcard has advanced. Nostalgia, timelessness, commitment, growth – these are just some of the reasons why Yellowcard continue to be among the best of their kind and have such powerful lasting value, and this album reminds us all of exactly that.

Cody Nelson: My relationship with Yellowcard is interesting, because in a way, I've always been pretty evenly split among the mindsets both Craig and Ryan brought up. In one sense, I believe wholeheartedly they've only grown stronger in their songwriting and musicianship as years have passed, and thatSouthern Air is the highest high the group has reached to date. On the other hand, however, I was very young (a little older than Ryan, if not the same age) when Ocean Avenue was released and 'Way Away' & the title track were gaining radio traction, so I owe the original record quite a bit for playing a large part in my introduction to the type of music I enjoy today. With those contradicting opinions floating around in my head, I hit play on the acoustic iteration for the first time and knew I was in for, at worst, a very introspective listen.

This is a good record. Sonically, lyrically, the tracks work; they worked ten years ago, they work now. I realize this will probably fall on deaf ears at this point, but in regards to the arrangements on 'Empty Apartment' & on 'One Year Six Months', I'd even almost accept an argument from someone saying they improved slightly on the originals. But this album's relationship to the original record is exactly where the problem lies. While I mentioned above that I believe Yellowcard has only become a stronger group, I still have an immense personal relationship with the original Ocean Avenue. Now I don't know about any of you, but when I hear changes on a song I have an emotional connection to, I can like those changes, but all it really does is heighten my urge to go back and listen to the initial track spawning said variation. If I were at an open mic and I saw somebody do a good cover of Billy Joel's "Angry Young Man," on some level I could respect & enjoy it, but that person's biggest success would be at getting me to go home and listen to Turnstiles. Now it's a little different here, since these are not covers, but my point remains. It's a good record, but it succeeds most at making me re-discover my love for the decade-old gem responsible for it.

Jason Tate: I'm reading over these comments from everyone and seeing that most all of us agree: the band flat out killed it with this one. Could this be the first time we've had a staff email chain where by and large we're all in agreement? It just might be. I've spent a little bit of time reading through some of the threads on our website to see what other people thought about the album -- by and large, I think it's being received very well by fans (new and old). I saw a few comments where the poster complained that they thought they were going to get a more stripped down version of the album (maybe just Ryan with a guitar), and I kinda wanted to talk about that for a moment. I can understand thinking that maybe that's what the band was going to do with this release (especially after the acoustic WYTTSY), but the more I think about it -- the more I am extremely glad they didn't go in that direction. 

One, as a long time fan of the band I already have an iTunes folder filled with just Ryan playing acoustic guitar only versions of Ocean Avenue tracks. The quality, by and large, is really good on those. I've heard that already. Second, Ocean Avenue was a full band release. It changed the lives of everyone in the band, and I think it's important that they got to participate in this release as well. If Ryan would have just sat down in his studio and recorded these tracks by himself -- I have no doubt it would have been great -- however, I think that by including all of the members of Yellowcard in the release, it really shows that the band (as a whole) was invested not just in this version of the album, but the memories and place this album holds in their life.

I guess the only thing that would have maybe been cool (albeit probably impossible to pull off) would have been to get some of the members of Yellowcard that are no longer in the band to come back and reprise their roles on some of these songs.

All in all, the memories that I have with Yellowcard are ones that I will forever hold close to my heart. I'm sitting here now, reading about a band that helped shape my life, and I have this huge smile on my face because I see how much the band has also impacted you guys. Knowing that I've never met quite a few of you, yet we share a similar passion not only for music, but for this music -- really reminds me again just exactly why I wake up every morning and sit down in front of a computer screen. I hope 10 years from now all of us are sitting around somewhere, be it in the same place or digitally, and we can toast a beer to another 10 years of Yellowcard. And, even more than that, another 10 years of music's role in our lives.

Craig Manning: I think Cody made a really great point with his piece, not just about Ocean Avenue Acoustic, but also about any release of this ilk. I like this kind of ten-year anniversary mile marker. I like how it celebrates the album in question and makes it current again. I like how it sends us all back in time to a record that meant the world to us growing up and makes us listen with new ears. And I especially love getting to discuss all of those things with people who are as eager as I am to revisit these decade-old classics and all the memories that come with them. But Ocean Avenue Acoustic is not as good as Ocean Avenue, and really, I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Yellowcard may like stripping their sound down to its bare essentials, as a way of giving fans a sort of “bonus” for years of support, but the fact is that driving electric guitars and loud arrangements have always been this band’s bread and butter. There’s something about hearing “Ocean Avenue” or “Way Away” or the climax of “Back Home” blazing at full volume and intensity that the acoustic versions of those songs just can’t muster. And it’s fine that they don’t offer the same exact feel, because then this album would be redundant and superfluous, but Cody’s right: hearing these songs in acoustic format just gets me itching to hear them in electric format, even though I’ve heard the original versions hundreds of times.

But still, I think there’s some value to this kind of project that Cody didn’t really hit upon. Sure, most of the old favorites are going to come across as lesser imitations of the original record, and that’s natural. Your opinions on a song you love will always be governed by the first version of that song with which you fell in love, and any other versions, be they live takes, covers, or acoustic reinventions, will face an uphill battle in trying to satisfy or duplicate the image of the song you already have engrained within your mind. As a result, I think Ocean Avenue Acoustic is more valuable for the songs that people didn’t care much about 10 years ago. This version of “Only One” may offer nothing new, but I don’t think “Life of a Salesman” ever hit me as hard in electric format as it does here. And “Twenty Three” has always struck me as almost the definition of filler material, but seems somehow more fun and enduring in acoustic format than it ever sounded on the original record. I think that’s the way to approach these celebratory releases: don’t expect to be wowed again by songs that you already count among your all-time favorites. In all likelihood, there is no way for those songs to be reinvented that can beat what’s already in your head. Instead, hope to be bowled over by a song that missed the mark for you the first time around. If you do, there’s a chance that the one song you’ve spent 10 years skipping could suddenly and finally click.

Ryan Gardner: Jason brings up a really interesting point about the generally positive response to this acoustic release. He’s right – it is very rare that everyone on staff, as well as general fans in the forums especially have a almost universally similar opinion about any album. It is even more rare when it comes to a retake or rendition of a “modern classic” such as this. That comment from Jason led to think about the more overall career of Yellowcard. There are few pop-punk/rock bands that I can think of where bands almostuniversally love all of their songs and records. Off the top of my head, Jimmy Eat World is always the band that comes to mind to fit this bill. The band just releases great record after great record, and their whole discography is almost universally acclaimed, save for a couple songs and records here and there. For Yellowcard, looking back I think they lead a similar legacy. Aside for the initial reaction to Lights & Sounds, which I think is a grower of a release that can be appreciated more with time, this band has truly been met with utmost positive acclaim overall. It’s something that Ryan Key touched on in his podcast with Jason, and it’s something that continues to reign true in each YC forum, thread, discussion, etc.

This kind of legacy only continues with such an interesting retake on the classic Ocean Avenue. While reunion tours are all the rage nowadays – and rightfully so – few are met with an entire album rendition. Even when they are, as Jason and Drew noted with TAYF10, the renditions don’t contain the magic they should. What’s even more interesting in regards to this album is how different people seem to cling to different songs. It’s not just the original singles, but songs that didn’t hit as hard on the original that seem to be hitting home now. Craig states that both “Twenty Three” and “Life As A Salesman” click with him moreso here than on the original versions. This is something worth every complement. I can think of few bands that redo something and make it commendable; I think of even fewer bands that can redo something and make it even more memorable than the original. However, Yellowcard have done that here. In fact, that’s the best part of this release – that different fans will now cling to different songs and hear them differently in their head. Sure, the old memories are still there, but new memories can now be made, as Craig noted originally. That is the true magic of Ocean Avenue Acoustic.

Cody Nelson: Ryan, I'd argue that Bayside should be lumped into that 'universal acclaim' group (and while we're briefly off-topic, where's their acoustic album?)

Anyways, I'm not really sure what else I can say here that hasn't been brought up well and in detail already. I guess I'd like to close with the idea (more a presumption) of what this type of album means to the people creating it. Being a musician requires a fairly high level of self-awareness; a group doesn't put out an album without very quickly realizing what type of mark it's setting on their fans and the music industry as a whole. It's for that reason alone that this type of release is a high risk/high reward situation. Putting out an acoustic version of an album not well-loved by a majority of listeners will more than likely fall on deaf ears, potentially setting off a chain of negative events that could lead to people changing their opinions of the band on the whole. That being said, it could also be the second chance the band has always needed at fixing what's largely viewed as a career misstep, resulting in people returning to the original record and leaving with a different, more positive opinion on it. Worst of all, however, there's always the chance of not giving a glorified past release the time and attention it deserves when transferring it to an acoustic setting. Looking at Taking Back Sunday's notable swing and a miss TAYF10, I don't hear any of the passion or detail that bleeds out of Ocean Avenue Acoustic. What I hear is "Hey, Adam, wanna make an acoustic album?" "Yeah, I guess. When?" "I don't know, tonight?"

So regardless of where I think this album falters slightly, it's Yellowcard's flawless handling of the acoustic album's fragility that most gains my respect. The group has been consistently releasing great new music, stopping only to re-release their claim to fame and comeback albums stripped down. Between the timing of the releases and the releases themselves, they've managed to get their fan base to look fondly back at two pivotal moments in the group's career through a different lens while simultaneously managing to sidestep any potential cash or nostalgia grab rumors. It's this intelligence and self-awareness that solidifies why Yellowcard is a staple of this music scene; if they're willing to care this much about a past record twice, anything coming from them in the future is all but guaranteed high-quality.

Drew Beringer: One thing I want to mention before wrapping up: how good is Sean Mackin on this release? His work with the violin on this release is nothing short of masterful and tastefully done. While the electric versions of these songs required the violin to be cranked up a notch and be the highlight of the song, here it's used in subtle and toned-down ways that gives each song some substance while not overshadowing it. I just love his work on this release and I think it's the unsung hero of Ocean Avenue Acoustic. Anyways, over the years I have grown out of the pop-punk genre - not a whole lot from this style of music moves me anymore. But I'll always have a place in my heart for Yellowcard - I enjoyed Southern Air a ton and Ocean Avenue was one of those albums my friends and I played front to back everyday in high school. I can tell that with this acoustic re-release, the band isn't doing it as a quick cash grab (for one, it wouldn't contain the attention to detail the release has) but rather a passion project since this is an album that not only changed some high school kids lives but also theirs. Even if these songs are ten years old, you can still feel the love and sincerity behind each acoustic rendition. And that's what I really appreciate about Yellowcard - they never cut corners and always give their fans a quality product.

Yellowcard's 'Ocean Avenue Acoustic' was released on August 13th, 2013 via Hopeless Records. The band is about to embark on a long national acoustic tour with Geoff Rickly (tour dates here). You can follow the band on Facebook and Twitter.

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