By Rachel A.G. Gilman
Floridian band We The Kings made a name for themselves amid the pop-punk revolution of 2007, touring with the likes of All Time Low, The Maine, and Mayday Parade. Since their debut, they’ve found success with hits “Check Yes Juliet” and “We’ll Be A Dream,” a duet recorded with Demi Lovato. Following 2013’s “Somewhere Somehow,” their highest chart-ranking album thus far, We The Kings are back with new material — well, in a way.
“Stripped” takes eleven of “Somewhere Somehow”’s thirteen tracks, putting an acoustic spin on them. The release hopes to appease fans until Travis Clark, the band’s lead singer, collects all of the material he worked on during this summer’s Warped Tour into a more concrete album, likely to be released next year.
The first track, “Just Keep Breathing,” turns into a very different experience when the original synthesizers and drums going along at an easily danceable beat are eliminated. Rather than coming off as an overly inspirational, cheesy pop song, giving acoustic instruments the focus allows the new release’s tone to soften.
An air of whimsy is added to “Queen of Hearts” when rendered with stronger acoustic guitars and crystal-filtered keyboard, giving it a more unique feel. The original song felt like a boy-band’s take on Gym Class Heroes’ “Stereo Hearts.” “Any Other Way” becomes haunting when stripped down to mainly acoustic guitar and given the addition of strongest harmonizing backing vocals “oo-ing” and “ah-ing.”
One of the most significantly altered songs is “Find You There.” In removing all of the instruments but the piano, the band better portrays the deep emotional value the lyrics hold, which the original didn’t seem to take seriously enough. Clark’s voice cracks as he sings, “Let me try / I know you know this time / I mean it,” really driving home the idea that the band better understood the dynamics of the song lyrically the second time around.
Another song that benefits from the addition of piano is, “Sad Song” which features Elena Coats. In its original format, it was already an essentially acoustic tune, but holding off on bringing in guitars until Coats takes over the second verse makes it more powerful. The two instruments taking turns dominating play into the fact the song is a duet, each instrument becoming more powerful and creating harmonies when their respective artist sings.
The only new material on the album is “Stone Walls” and “Is This the End?” perhaps giving a look into the future of We The Kings. The latter of the two tracks is experimental for the group, essentially Clark reading poetry with various chord inversions in the background, more odd than intriguing. However, “Stone Walls” could be a good omen of the band’s switch from pop punk to pop/alternative rock. It builds gradually and has a heightened level of control, beginning with acoustic guitars and growing from there, even incorporating a chorus of backing voices, for an overall more mature sound.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org