Review Summary: "Can we savor every moment, find ourselves along the way?"
I was worried for a start, worried that Albany-based pop punkers State Champs would be treading down the much maligned, sugar-coated radio-pop route. The been-there-done-that "whoa-oh-oh" gang vocals that announce lead single "Dead and Gone" has the John Feldmann stigma written all over it (one of the three producers on this album, mind you) and it detracts from what is otherwise, a rock solid pop-punk tune ‒ complete with a memorable chorus. Fortunately, "Dead and Gone" is the only track on State Champs third LP, Living Proof
, that features full-on pop sensibilities and almost sticks out like a sore thumb because of it. Make no mistake; Living Proof
is an absolute shot in the arm, with frenzied, white knuckle pop-punk bangers permeating a majority of the track listing. While palate cleansers do arise, they feel more like they exist solely for the sake of providing the album with some much needed breathing room in light of all the explosive, feel-good energy that rests at the core of the album.
Frontman Derek Discanio's vocal chops have always been the clear highlight of State Champs' sound, and once again he proves his worth with some of the most exuberant and impressive sounding vocal melodies this side of the pop-punk genre, with moments that are guaranteed to send chills down your spine. Just listen as he belts his heart out in the chorus on the kinetic track "Lightning" ‒ possibly the heaviest sounding State Champs tune to date, with a bridge section that incentives movement. Elsewhere, Discanio consistently one-ups himself on a track-to-track basis, with every successive track packing a bigger, more infectious chorus than the last. Opener "Criminal" perfectly sets the stage for what follows and also proves just how far State Champs has come instrumentally since their stripped down 2013 debut The Finer Things
. Evan Ambrosio's drumming is absolutely superb, with tons of tasteful triplet fills and ghost notes laced throughout his performance.
The guitar work is also the most dynamic yet on a State Champs LP, with funkier leanings, such as the beautiful intro to the excellent "Frozen" or the picture-esque riffing occurring in the bridge of "Crystal Ball". Much how the band's fellow pop-punk peers Neck Deep doubled down on their sound on 2015's excellent Life's Not Out To Get You
, State Champs has taken a similar approach here. This is an extremely uplifting and summer primed record that is concerned only with getting listeners to bang their heads and sing along. "Something About You" may very well feature the best chorus melody that the band has ever penned and beautifully balances stripped down verses with a larger-than-life refrain and closer "Sidelines" ‒ with its start-and-stop dynamics and tasteful lead riffs ‒ perfectly closes out the album with a cacophanous bang.
"Our Time to Go", "The Fix Up" and the penultimate and lackluster "Time Machine", are the only tracks that offer some semblance of respite, the latter of which features a mediocre guest vocal spot by co-writer and Blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus. The 6/8 time-signature on "Our Time to Go" is definitely a nice change of pace and the bitter-sweet lyricism and chorus section makes it the strongest State Champs ballad thus far. Perhaps the biggest reservation one might have regarding Living Proof
is that it seems more concerned with being an amalgamation of the bands prior two albums as opposed to breaking new ground for the genre ‒ fortunately, the upgrades are noticable enough to make it the band's strongest and most consistent offering to date and few of the band's modern contemporaries offer musicianship tighter than what's on display here.
Clocking in at around 43 minutes over the course of 13 tracks, Living Proof
just barely overstays its welcome. Mark Hoppus' guest appearance is completely unnecessary and it's a shame that bassist and backup vocalist Ryan Scott Graham doesn't get any moments in the spotlight vocally ‒ with vocal duties instead relying solely on Discanio. Save for these blunders, State Champs third outing is a strong argument for the best summer album of 2018. There's hit potential in virtually every track and the glossy production values and spruced up musicianship help reaffirm State Champs' status as heavy weights in the pop-punk genre, destined to rise above the rest.
Something About You
Least favorite track(s):