William Ryan Key’s post-Yellowcard career has felt defined by his attempts to distance himself from that band, most of which haven’t managed to land. That’s not all that surprising considering how influential they were—you’ll never hear a violin in a pop-punk song without the comparison being made—but they’ve been broken up for five years now, and the efforts still aren’t really sticking. It’s telling that Key’s Slam Dunk set in 2019 was comprised entirely of acoustic renditions of Yellowcard songs, as if his musical profile is defined by what the people want from him rather than his own impulses. Thus, it’s no wonder that Everything Except Desire is such a marked shift from the rest of his solo material, leaving the stripped-back, solid-but-unremarkable pop-rock behind entirely for something more plaintive and electronically founded. That alone makes this stand out head-and-shoulders above his other solo ventures, albeit in a way that does have a twinge of side-project-ness to it for just how far off the set script it’s going. That’s not automatically a bad thing though; if anything, it’s arguably the most accomplished his solo EPs have ever felt, taking routes that are hitherto unexplored and making them feel complete right from the jump. There’s a surprising variety of compositional styles over just five tracks, and none of them are totally without merit. Brighton might be a smidge too reliant on its heavier percussion for some tastes, for how it can gate the track’s progression in in a less-than-appealing way, but it’s still the most cinematic and bombastic this EP feels, without sacrificing the intimacy that informs pretty much the whole thing. Tracks like Face In The Frame and Heavens serve as the richest demonstration of how this could work the most, taking the windswept, bright-eyed exuberance of someone like Porter Robinson, but suitably tamping that back to work in a singer-songwriter context.
More so than the majority of these pivots, Key actually sounds like he understands the palettes that he’s working with fully. His voice is almost always hushed to not overpower the production, and that ultimately adds to vulnerability and mystique that’s so alluring here. This is a collection of songs anchored in the freedom that comes from cutting the cord on loss and toxicity, and that’s mirrored so well pretty much across the board. As much as the term ‘bold new step’ gets bandied around, Everything Except Desire actually brings that in spades, in fresh reinvention that already has moments cracking the upper ranks of Key’s solo catalogue. Those are, namely, Face In The Frame and Heavens for how perfectly he’s taken to that style already—and you can throw in the instrumental opener The Swim Back in there as well—with Brighton and Union Chapel serving as slight dips that, honestly, are to be expected. They work in the context of the package and are still solid songs on their own merits, but that extra coat of dazzle isn’t quite there in the same way. That’s more down to personal preference, of course, because the sound still works wholeheartedly, as the well-balanced keys and cushions of atmosphere always have a fluidity and freedom of motion to them. It’s easy to see how that might be divisive, as almost the antithesis of what Key has put his name to musically prior to this, but that’s also the point in a career refresh and reimagining that goes right to the bones and works its way outwards again. If this is where Key is planning on staying in his solo work, rather than having it as just a side venture, that’s a reason to get onboard for the foreseeable future, because for the first time in ages the possibilities are borderline endless.
For fans of: Porter Robinson, Cannons, The Midnight
‘Everything Except Desire’ by William Ryan Key is released on 11th February on Rude Records / Equal Vision Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall