Yellowcard distinguishes itself from the caffeinated beats and sugary hooks of its punk-pop contemporaries, thanks to the contributions of Sean Mackin, whose violin adds depth and ballast. While the songs hurtle forward with a predictable slashing guitar, an insistent pulse, and the soaring heartfelt croon of singer-guitarist Ryan Key, it's Mackin who really gives the band character, elevating the bustling Cali-punk into something more interesting than its influences.
After forming in Jacksonville in '97, Yellowcard underwent a lineup change, and new singer Key convinced the band to move to L.A. It was a fortuitous move that culminated in the band's 2003 major-label debut, Oceans Avenue. This year's follow-up, Lights and Sounds, continues to diversify the arrangements and move away from punk and toward pop. While the lead single, "Lights and Sounds," rattles, swirls, and churns like Everclear, half the album floats on mid-tempo melodies and easy-going ballads ("Two Weeks From Twenty," "City of Devils"). The arrangements play to Mackin's strengths, but the moody, swooning music risks alienating an audience that may be expecting something more like Sum 41.