Review by Rebecca Hooey
June 15, 2018 marked the release of Florida pop punk powerhouse Mayday Parade’s sixth studio album, and oh boy was it an emotional one. Overall, this album lays out a feeling of oxymoron. Hopeful hopelessness, agitated resignation, homesick wanderlust, all are feelings that are bared through the expert lyricism of Derek Sanders, and even further set up by the melodic stylings used with each song. Overall, “Sunnyland” is a solid release from Mayday Parade, sure to rouse feelings deep within their fans; and while it’s not necessarily different stylistically, it still feels fresh and new.
“Sunnyland” opens with the typical crashing drums of Jake Bundrick and Sanders’ soaring vocals, setting the stage for a friendship gone awry. Never Sure is a song that tells the story of two friends who haven’t seen each other in a while, and aren’t sure how they’re supposed to act around each other anymore, but hope that they can make things work once again, and that their friendship might bloom. This hope is seemingly dashed in the next song, which has a 2007 Fall Out Boy level title, “It’s Hard to Be Religious When Certain People Are Never Incinerated By Bolts of Lightning”. It doesn’t feel, at first, like this song is going to maintain the energy level set in Never Sure, but when the chorus hits, you can almost feel the collective energy of a crowd singing the hard hitting lyrics at a concert. This song continues to weave a tale of two people who have simply grown apart, but this time with a twist. It’s Hard… reveals that maybe the reason that these two people have grown apart was a gradual change in the person’s morals. Sanders accusingly sings “Everyone knows what a selfish prick you’ve become”, condemning this person and the way that they seem to be acting.
“Piece of your Heart”, which was the lead single off this album, is a departure from the thematic elements of the previous two songs. Instead of condemning a scorned friend, Sanders seems to be singing of the family he leaves behind when he tours. In the much more mellow song, Sanders sings of wanting a larger piece of real estate in someone’s life than he is able to have. This plays nicely with the common idea that you always have someone in your heart, even when you aren’t with them. This is a song is about both the melancholy nature of missing someone, but also the feeling of unwavering security Sanders has in his relationship with his wife. He seems to get more confident throughout the course of this song, which is shown nicely through the instrumentation: the song starts with a lone guitar, then slowly adds instruments, until Sanders is screaming from the rooftops about his secure love. “This downcast blade from the sky/could never sever through/not what we have me and you”, he boasts in the second verse. This song was the perfect lead single, and simultaneously gives listeners a chance to slow down from the first two tracks, while maintaining the energy that they produced.
This break is short lived, however, as “Is Nowhere” opens with a much faster, angst-y beat reminiscent of Mayday Parade songs of old. It’s written in the classic pop punk style that begs the question: “Is this song written in a major or minor key?”. It’s a tumultuous, chaotic song that doesn’t so much tell a story as describe a feeling. The narrator is going through a rough time, holding onto things that he shouldn’t, and is clearly rethinking quite a few life choices, wondering if what he’s done is worth what he’s gone through. This song is a headbanger, for sure.
“Take My Breath Away” is, ironically, the first time that listeners get the chance to truly slow down and breath. Up until this point, there has been a certain chaotic energy infused into the songs. Maybe it’s in the guitars, maybe it’s in the style in which Sanders seems to scream the words, pulling each heart wrenching lyric from somewhere in his chest. This track, though, feels almost defeated. The narrative of a relationship gone south continues here, and the narrator seems to be in the thick of a fight. However, they’ve accepted the fact that there’s not going to be a happy ending. This isn’t going to end well, and they’re ready to walk away. Be over with it. He recognizes that they’ve both been looking for a way out, and he’s willing to give it.
“Stay the Same” slowly builds back up the monumental energy that the beginning of this album held. It builds from lonely guitar picking in the first verse, to a full band at the end. It’s a plea with someone to do just as the track title says. The narrator wants someone to not change for anyone or anything. They speak of living in a world where everyone else changes, and they just want for this one person to stay exactly as they are.
The chaotic energy is back in “How Do You Like Me Now”. The guitars (played by Alex Garcia and Brooks Betts) are more distorted, the drums are more hectic, the tempo is racing, and Sanders once again sounds like he’s plucking each heartache filled lyric directly from his core. This song speaks of a change of nature in the narrator. The narrator feels as though he’s a different person now, someone he doesn’t particularly want to be. He feels helpless to change. Almost as if he’s seeing someone important to him and petulantly declaring “This is who I am now, what do you think?” while holding a secret hope that this person will help them get back to the person they were. This song feels like a person who is disconnected from themself, and is trying desperately to reconnect to who they really are.
“Where You Are” is evidence of Sanders’ incredible skill at writing about profound heartache. Taken literally, at face value, it is a song about a military wife who has lost her husband overseas, but more broadly it speaks to the deep loss one feels when a loved one dies. Sanders masterfully works his own feelings of distance from his family into the metaphor, creating a feeling of sadness in the listener that leaves them wondering if they lost the love of their life and just didn’t realize it. The beautiful acoustic guitar and gentle tinkling of what I can only assume is a xylophone/marimba build the illusion, giving the feeling of a SayWeCanFly song, with equal amounts of angst and raw emotion.
“If I Were You” is another high energy song, bringing about the feeling that the listener is a yo-yo, bouncing wildly between feelings of anger, hopelessness, love, excitement, and back again with each song that plays. This sounds like a quintessential pop-punk song, but not at all in a bad way. This song is, yet again, condemning someone who did the narrator wrong. It’s a big middle finger, but also a warning and a piece of advice. This song brings to mind the thematic elements of Mayday Parade’s 2007 album “A Lesson in Romantics”, which spoke of romance gone horribly wrong. Maybe this album is a continuation of sorts? The last string of songs Sanders used to get over what happened to him? Regardless, this track is bitter but resigned. The narrator is by no means okay with the way that this person treated them, and has no intention of merely letting it go, but has come to terms with what happened, and the person that they’ve become because of it. This song will surely be a fun one to see live. Definitely one to dance along to.
“Satellite” loses the chaotic feeling, and replaces it with a feeling of pressed urgency. The narrator seems to be rushing to tell someone about their half baked plan to just run away, to fly off into the sky and leave all of their problems on the ground. This is a song about escapism. This track feels like two people holding each other and hiding from the world in each others’ arms. At the same time, this song holds the feeling of someone who isn’t quite certain of someone’s dedication to them. They know that they would do anything for this person, but would they do the same?
“Looks Red, Tastes Blue” is a song from someone who is tired of the life of a touring musician. It happens to the best. You can love what you do, be living your dream, but sometimes you wonder what it would be like if you chose a different life. Sometimes you just wish that you could live a normal life with a normal family, and not make a living by showing your deepest scars to the world. This song morphs from this idea, to someone who is specifically irritated with the distance put between them and their significant other. They claim they can’t breathe without this person. Overall, this song feels like something that I’m going to sing full blast in a car going 60 mph down a highway with all the windows down, just to let out some feelings.
“Always Leaving” is a continuation of the theme of a touring musician who doesn’t want to leave their family. The title hits the theme right on the head. The beautiful fingerpicking work belies the actual meaning of a song, giving a much less bleak and heartsick feeling to the lyrics that speak of a man who knows what he has to do, but sometimes just wants to spend time in one place.
The album ends with a sombre title track that tells the story of childhood innocence lost. The narrator pleads “Take me back to Sunnyland, so I can find the light again”. This track is the story of someone who is in a dark place, trying to find their orientation so that they might make their way back to a lighter, happier place. The acoustic guitar and heartfelt lyrics are so quintessentially Mayday Parade, and you can feel every emotion through Sanders’ voice. This track, while not lyrically connected to many of the tracks, perfectly encompasses the general feeling of resignation shown throughout this album, and makes the perfect title track.