State Champs – ‘Living Proof’

By Gem Rogers

Drop. Everything. Now. Sound the pop punk sirens, dig out your backpack and get your dancing shoes ready (preferably chukkas but we’ll let you off with anything vaguely skate-shaped) – State Champs are back!

It’s only five years since the New York band released debut album ‘The Finer Things’, but in that time they have not only reignited a genre that was being slowly forgotten after its mid-2000s boom, but also started to redefine it as many big-name former pop-punkers step away and explore different sounds. State Champs have shown an incredible knack for bringing the best out of the poppy end of pop punk while still sounding fresh; 2015’s ‘Around The World and Back’ was a masterclass in the genre, but where could they go after such a well-executed sophomore effort? Well, the answer is pretty simple – ‘Living Proof’ is where, and with names like John Feldmann and Mark Hoppus attached, it’s hard not to expect something huge…

If you had any doubts about State Champs’ ability to produce another corker of an LP, the opening few seconds will wash them all away – “So what’s it mean / when every dream I have is about you now?” Derek DiScanio’s distinctive vocals blaze on first track ‘Criminal’, digging straight into feelings pretty much everyone has had at some point. The slightly distorted intro bursts into life with bouncy guitars and a steady bass that dip in and out through the song to grant DiScanio the main spotlight – and give real power when the chorus kicks back in.

Big choruses are this band’s specialty, and they definitely aren’t leaving that behind on ‘Living Proof’. Almost every song provides the opportunity for a head back, singalong with all the air available in your lungs moment – these moments are part of what makes their live shows so enjoyable, but they’re also now upping their game in other ways. Second track ‘Frozen’ has a joyously summery riff that begs to stay in your head for days, while lyrically they continue to grow; latest single ‘Our Time To Go’ is a heartrendingly powerful take on difficult times and mental health struggles.

Slotted early in the album alongside its follow up ‘Crystal Ball’, lead single ‘Dead and Gone’ is an addictive track brimming with the spirit of pop punk – tackling life’s troubles with eternal optimism and plenty of guitar. And the obligatory singalong , naturally. It’s an instant standout track, but far from the only highlight on the album. ‘Lightning’ is sure to be a crowd-pleaser on tour – “I think it’s time to let my eyes stay open / I’m missing out on the point if they’re always closed” – while ‘Something About You’ brings a dose of groove (and an incredible bass line) to the proceedings. ‘Mine Is Gold’ is among the absolute best of their songs; it’s two fingers up to anyone who’s ever wronged you, set to a marching beat and more glorious bass from Ryan Scott Graham. ‘Living Proof’ isn’t short of songs about love and relationships, but it’s songs like this that really shine.

Just when you think you know what they have in store for you, State Champs go ahead and pull the rug out from under everyone’s feet on ‘Time Machine’ as guitars are swapped for keys and a darker mood. At its heart this is a pure ballad with a guest turn on vocals from Mark Hoppus, but it’s also the biggest step away from their ‘classic’ sound yet. Not to worry though; the risk pays off, and the reward is a beautifully soothing wind down after the whirlwind of the eleven tracks it follows.

Wisely choosing not to finish on a quiet note, final track ‘Sidelines’ picks the pace back up with a huge, singalong chorus. If it’s mildly infuriating to finish on a fade out, it is at least balanced out by the feeling of having listened to something that will worm its way into your heart and hold on like a vice.

In ‘Living Proof’ State Champs have found a middle ground between the polished sound of their second album and the creativity of their first. There’s not a single bad track in sight – some, like ‘Safe Haven’, do get a little lost in the middle of the strongest songs, but what really stands out is the variety in pace and tone throughout. Not content with just being one of the best bands in their genre, State Champs are showing growth and maturity. It’s more of a gentle prodding at the Jenga tower of pop punk than a crashing change, but they are steadily pushing the boundaries of their sound without abandoning something that, quite frankly, ain’t broke and doesn’t need fixing. The result is an album that is familiar, yet invigoratingly new and altogether wonderful.

GEM ROGERS

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