Yellowcard began writing and recording early in 2012, shortly after the touring cycle for When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes (2011). The overall positive energy the band had generated was inspiration to begin writing again. The band has already begun to write material for the new record. Bassist Sean O'Donnell left the band that February to focus on his upcoming marriage and family. Josh Portman later joining to fill the bassist position. Guest vocalists on the album include Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low, Cassadee Pope of Hey Monday, and Tay Jardine of We Are the In Crowd. The recording sessions lasted five weeks, concluding April 8.
The album's first single, "Always Summer", was released May 22, 2012. "Here I Am Alive" was released July 31 as the second single. Music videos were also made for both songs. Southern Air was released August 14, 2012. In January 2013, the band went on a co-headlining North America tour with All Time Low.
Reception to the album has been positive. Most reviewers have commented on the bands maturity of their musicianship, and the strong lyrical content. At Metacritic, which assigns an average rating out of 100 from mainstream critics, Southern Air received a score of 83, indicating universal acclaim. In addition, Thomas Nassiff at AbsolutePunk.net lauded that the album "is the best pop-punk album of 2012, and it’s a veteran band putting on a clinic for everyone to listen." Alter The Press named Southern Air the best album of 2012, citing that "the band have poured their hearts into Southern Air and there is a tangible sense of passion behind each track."
The album debuted at #10 on the Billboard 200 chart, with first week sales of 23,000 copies in the United States, making it their second-highest debut, behind their 2006 release, Lights and Sounds, which peaked at #5.