William Ryan Key "Virtue" Review

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Virtue, the sophomore EP from former Yellowcard vocalist William Ryan Key, showcases the songwriting chops of a seasoned veteran, while still bringing about a new approach and fresh vibe to a familiar voice. There are trademark elements of Key’s songwriting present, such as his ability to write melodies that get stuck inside one’s head. Those melodies are now present atop tranquil, emotion-driven compositions with minimal instrumentation, as opposed to the summer anthems with fast guitars and pounding drums that one has come to expect from Key.

The record opens with “The Same Destination,” an introductory piano and guitar instrumental that sets an ambient tone that the rest of the record follows. It then dives into “Mortar and Stone,” a track that both reflects on the past and looks ahead. Key speaks of the dichotomy between familiarity and uncertainty, and both the nerves and excitement of a new adventure. He talks of the roads he has already traveled and whether or not to retread them or begin a new path, a message that translates to many listeners who may find themselves at odds with their choices in life. “The Bowery” introduces a soft snare drum texture that keeps the song moving along against Key’s soothing and drawn out vocal melodies, a recurring highlight of the record. Key’s vocal delivery is smooth yet still precise, with layers of harmonies complimenting one another very well.

The title track, “Virtue,” does exactly as a title track should: sums up into a single song the themes and highlights, both musical and lyrical, of the collective body of work that is this EP. Key incorporates organs into the acoustic-driven track, which soon erupts into a full-band track as crashing, open drums find themselves at home between atmospheric and ambient guitars and vocals. Key’s lyrics are real and relatable, and the instrumentation compliments his melodies in such a pleasing way. The record wraps with “Downtown (Up North,” a love letter to an old flame that has since burned out, and “No More No Less,” which concludes the record with another impactful full-band playout.

With this release, Key has proven himself to be a worthwhile and sustainable solo act, pumping out consistent quality content on his own while still living up to the legacy he built for himself as a songwriter. Virtue is a very welcome addition to Key’s catalog.

By Trevor Hancock