Before basking in the mainstream success that was Ocean Avenue, Yellowcard were just another bunch of underdogs plowing through releases and member changes. The Underdog EP, which features members Ryan Key (vocals/guitar), Warren Cooke (bass), Sean Mackin (violin), Ben Harper (guitar), and Longineu W. Parsons III (drums), will regrettably remain unexplored by more casual fans the band has picked up in recent years. But those who do take the time to dig through Yellowcard’s back catalog of music will be pleasantly surprised by The Underdog EP.
The EP begins in typical pop punk fare with “Underdog,” the age-old story of feeling left out amongst peers set to a high school backdrop. The song would be dispensable if not for the way Mackin’s violin compliments the guitars so well and the first evidence of Key’s vocal abilities. Over saturation of melodramatic lyrics amongst bands today doesn’t help the verses of second track “Avondale” age well (‘If you’re gonna rip my heart out / Could you use a knife that’s dull and rust in color?’), but again Key’s instantly accessible singing saves the song from obscurity.
Of all the songs on The Underdog EP, “Finish Line” shines brightest. Key doesn’t waste any time welcoming the listener in, and within seconds Mackin takes control to set the bar high for the rest of the band in terms of instrumentation. The band does indeed deliver and beautiful layered vocals during the interlude solidify the track’s top status as the best vocal work of the EP. The following guitar solo is a nice touch, but a more prominent and cleaner guitar sound would have made a great song even better.
After the fast paced and heartening song preceding it, “Powder” is somewhat surprising to stumble upon. Crunching guitars and artful violin playing provide duality for the song’s tale of a friend addicted to cocaine. The serious subject matter not often explored by a young band only elevates the group above their naive peers. It’s curious to note that Yellowcard don’t stick to the common “don’t do drugs” mantra, but rather give an introspective look at an individual’s fervent reliance on their drug of choice (‘There’s power in the powder’).
Though “Powder” is sure to throw some listeners for a loop, “Rocket” settles things again. It’s the perfect song for a lazy Sunday complete with long drawn vocals and peaceful guitar playing that are both sleep inducing. That is, until the distortion pedal is pushed down and Key loudly proclaims his love through family friendly similes (’I slip another smile in your pocket / My heart is racing to you like a rocket’). His message sent, Key quiets and a deliberately slow drum beat lulls the listener away from an EP that ends too soon.