Like we’ve talked about many times before, 2015 truly is a great year for pop punk. Whether it be the semi-established likes of Neck Deep or Mayday Parade, or newbies The Story So Far, these last ten months have been great for the genre. Now, another up and coming American collective have put out an album to rival the rest – State Champs. Read on for our full opinion on their debut album, Around the World and Back, which came out yesterday.
The record opens on a powerful percussion and guitar combination on Eyes Closed, which
encompasses by-numbers chugged and muted guitar verses, as well as a full-on anthemic chorus. “I think we thought we made this place our own” sings frontman Derek Discanio during the second verse, his classic pop punk vocal tone sounding almost indecipherable at times. The rest of the song trudges along in a similar verse chorus progression, eventually coming to an upbeat close. Popular single Secrets follows, making use of Neck Deep-esque opening riffs and catchy vocals. “You caught me in the right place at the
right” declares Discanio during the opening verse, before Secrets’ chorus is another anthemic culmination of gritty guitars and pounding percussion. Losing Myself follows, utilizing brief feedback and heavily distorted guitars to make way for a moshpit ready verse. Discanio sings of being taken “by surprise” ahead of the chorus, one in which he sings of not trading a girl “for life”. Just like with most songs in this genre, State Champs know exactly what the deal is when it comes to the right combination of catchy sounds. Evan Ambrosio’s drumming stands out on this song, with it becoming very clear that his stick work holds many songs together.
Album highlight All You Are is History follows the generic formula to a certain extent, with
Discanio throwing in an off-key, catchy “whoa” every now and then. The chorus is anthemic, punch and ready to be sung along to by rooms of any size. Festival main stages? Check. 150-capacity sweatboxes? Check. “Talk like you’re self-assured but all you are history” claims Discanio, his delivery sounding tight and urgent. This is exactly what makes State Champs such an attractive band, especially when you combine it with the whole band’s unique capabilities. Perfect Score’s fade-in leads in to a slower (by State Champs’ standards) verse, although the chorus is no different to what we’ve come to expect from the New York outfit. The song’s breakdown goes to certain lengths in sounding euphoric (in a similar vein to contemporaries All Time Low), just about managing to achieve its aim. All or Nothing makes use of a jangly guitar intro courtesy of Tyler Szalkowski, before fellow guitarist Tony Diaz also enters the frame. It’s a slower track at times, but it eventually does turn into a classic State Champs track. The build-up is gradual, but it gets there in the end, largely thanks to Ryan Graham’s pulsating bassline. Graham’s four strings, paired with Ambrosio’s drums, are ultimately what holds a lot of the album together. Shape Up introduces a raw, edgier side to the band which features needle-sharp guitar precision, fast verses and euphoric vocals. “I’m not a victim” declared Discanio, his vocals underpinned by headbang-worthy instrumentals. “Shape up and stand tall!” continues the frontman later on, his bold declaration a likely future motto for many fans.
As the album heads towards a close, Back & Forth leans towards the older, Blink-182/Sum 41 side of pop punk. Hints of both contemporaries flitter in and out of consciousness throughout
the track, with the chorus a sickly sweet radio friendly banger. It’s followed by the title track, Around the World and Back, which is the first acoustic track on the album. Discanio sings of a girl who has “eyes like spring and legs like summer”, with his vocals soaring during the chorus. Even though Discanio sounds very similar to your standard pop punk frontman, it’s still his voice which stands out the most on this album. The title track also features guest vocals from Jule Vera frontwoman Ansley Newman, who lends her vocals to the strings-backed second verse. “Sometimes I can’t help but say: we’re making history” she sings alongside Discanio,
both their vocals full of equal parts urgency and equal parts serenity throughout. Penultimate track Breaking Ground is back to basics for the band, utilizing gang vocal chants and
menacing riffs (more of the same, really), before album closer Tooth and Nail brings the record to a powerful close. Towering, chugged riffs form the backbone of the song, with Discanio’s voice nicely complementing the rest of his band. The chorus is one final, euphoric hurrah for State Champs, who have proven to us that they’re no different to how they’re always going to be.
Now, it’s worth nothing that although State Champs may well be one of the best pop punk bands of the year, their music is nowhere near unique or outstanding. Okay, the songs are really good and they know what they’re doing, but if you put it in a firing line amongst the rest of this year’s albums, you wouldn’t be able to single it out. Having said that, though, Around the World and Back is by no means a bad album – it features everything you’d want from a pop punk band. Discanio’s vocals are pulled off with razor sharp intensity and wit, the guitars are (at times) merciless, the bass pulsates and the drums pound. Within their scene, State Champs are going to be very, very big.
Around the World and Back is out now via Pure Noise Records. Watch the video for All You Are is History below.