Hearing Aide: State Champs ‘Unplugged’

COVID got you down? Having some relationship troubles? Or maybe there’s a hankering for some good ol’ 2010 nostalgia? Take a listen to State Champs’ new album and let it all out, in a true pop punk fashion. This collection was released to celebrate 10 years since the bands’ start in Albany. In their press release, they declare their change of pace as a “healthy growth spurt,” that will “set the table for the next ten years of their career.” They definitely have grown since their start a decade ago, but it’s arguable that they may have just aged out their genre, rather than growing into a new one.

state champs

This six-track album, with four original songs in their newfound acoustic sound, also features two covers of their highest rated songs, transposed into their new style. What’s fascinating is they’re able to keep that drive going in such a ‘low lit’ environment. This is their saving grace because, on its face, this album might not sound so appealing. How can you have a chill version of pop punk music about how your hometown sucks and you hate your ex-girlfriend? Well this is one way to do it. This feels highly multi-layered throughout. It’s not just a softer version of the songs you like, some are reimagined in creative ways. 

“A Thousand Hearts” really sets the scene as to how laid back they’ve become. It has decent drive and motivation, but it’s not at all parallel to their original work, with one of the only similarities being Derek DiScanio’s voice and lyrical theme. That’s fine and all, being that the band wants to move in a new direction. It might be a bit of a shock to long time listeners, as will the smooth as butter saxophone solos. “The Recipe” falls into the similarly romantic space, but presents a better sense of direction and drive, as well as more relatable lyrics about how relationships don’t need to follow a ‘recipe.’ 

“10 am” has a very unique, self proclaimed EDM sound, mixed with well produced, natural sounds. It’s got a catchy hook to it, but again, not the most revolutionary word-smithing going on in this one. Musically though, this is very well executed. Fun fact: the song was birthed by Evan Ambrosio, who was messing around with an automated drum loop, and ran with the idea, creating a song with a synthetic drum loop that has a natural sound to them. Most of the song sounds completely acoustic and man-made, but fades out with the drum beat, which slowly morphs into a more computerized, 8-bit sound – a fun nod to the muse of the song. 

“Crying Out Loud” is the best original on the album. The hook is super catchy, the energy created both lyrically and musically is moving and it should resonate well among Champ fans. This could easily be transposed into their original style perfectly, but again, that’s not their vision.

“Criminal” is the first acoustic version of an original song and it feels more natural compared to the first four tracks on the album. They’ve thrown in a very poppy, bluegrass feel to it, which takes some getting used to but it’s still a fun song if you’re a fan of the original. 

“Dead and Gone” is the perfect song to cover. The lyrics are edgy enough to give it the drive it needs and the music follows to help propel it even further. It’s not too busy, or trying to be something other than what it is. The most extreme change is a twangy guitar that pops in and out of the song. The double time effect that we hear during the verses, (that feeling of the music getting faster) comes through perfectly in this too – a cornerstone of pop punk music. 

Pop punk is a culmination of a lot of music, so the logic should be sound – why not just add another genre in there, and we should sound different. But pop punk is already so many things: Emotional, energetic, silly, dramatic, loud. There aren’t many genres that can say they have all of those things and still be palatable to the masses. It’s also quite the challenge to change a group’s entire attitude, let alone pulling from another genre of music. This is a definitely a sensible direction to go for State Champs, as the pop punk area of music may start to trail off soon, if it already hasn’t. But if State Champs find that golden ratio, as they did in their “Dead and Gone” cover and “Crying Out Loud,” then they themselves will be golden and “set the table for the next ten years of their career.”

Key Tracks: 10 AM, Crying Out Loud, Dead & Gone

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