Review Summary: It’s fine… But not a patch on ‘The Finer Things’.
When Albany act State Champs released their debut LP proper ‘The Finer Things’ in 2013, it was a “sit up and take notice” moment for many pop-punk aficionados. Arguably only trailing ‘The Greatest Generation’ (from veterans The Wonder Years) for that year’s best genre release, it was an exciting record from a group of youngsters that seemed to have an excellent handle on how to combine the categorization’s titular traits; pop and punk. In amongst some well-crafted song-writing nous, propulsive drumming and a buzzing dual guitar attack melded with memorable melodies and a barrage of infectious hooks. Following a strong acoustic EP, anticipation was high for full-length number two. Unfortunately, ‘Around the World and Back’ is initially a disappointment that is not a patch on its predecessor.
Unsurprisingly, State Champs toured the world relentlessly on the back of ‘The Finer Things’. And while one would never begrudge the opportunity for young upstarts to receive the greatest promotion possible, two of the tours headlining acts probably suggested the future direction for these New Yorkers… In America, it was All Time Low (whose sophomore LP ‘So Wrong, It’s Right’ appears to be a clear influence here), while in Australia it was 5 Seconds of Summer. That’s right folks; this is slick, predominantly by-the-numbers pop-punk that leans a little too much to the pop side of things. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course, but once that path is chosen, a band better bring some instantly catchy tunes that stick in the memory. And while this is a consistent set of eleven songs that doesn’t contain a bad track, only ‘All You Are is History’ could be classified as genuinely memorable from the get-go!
Despite Evan Ambrosio’s thumping drums often being mixed to the forefront, most focus here is placed on Derek DiScanio’s silky smooth vocals. Anyone looking for some musical variety from ‘Around the World and Back’ should avert their direction to the album’s latter half. ‘Breaking Ground’ is the record’s (relatively speaking) heaviest track, coming complete with some fan-friendly “woh woh’s”. Alternately, the welcome inclusion of female vocals (courtesy of Jule Vera’s Ansley Newman), highlights the token ballad that is the title track. The most interesting – if not altogether successful - tune here may in fact be centrepiece ‘All or Nothing’; State Champs’ attempt at fusing pop-punk and alternative rock. Otherwise, everything from a song’s structure to its duration can pretty much be predicted to a tee on this thirty-six minute release.
When a band slickens up their sound to divisive results, it can be too easy to blame a change of producer. With Steve Klein having expertly manned the boards on ‘The Finer Things’, the switch to Kyle Black would have raised some eyebrows. Then again, Black has already been responsible for excellent 2015 releases from Strung Out and (similar pop-punk act) Broadside. No, ‘Around the World and Back’ is clearly the album that State Champs wanted to make. And if expectations weren’t so high, then maybe it would be seen as the solid and – dare I say – fine record that it is. Because that’s what it will eventually amount to, once the initial disappointment subsides. The quintet still perform pop-punk better than many of their contemporaries, and it should be noted that this LP sounds significantly more effective when played out loud, rather than through head or earphones… But it’s difficult to ignore the feeling that they are capable of better. Since this album is also unlikely to propel them to stratospheric mainstream heights, the band’s next move will be fascinating to follow.
Recommended Tracks: All You Are Is History, All or Nothing, Eyes Closed & Secrets.