As of late, my interest in the pop-punk genre has started to diminish. Though it was the style that would initially fuel my interest in alternative music back in my early high school days – I immediately attached to bands like Blink 182, Green Day and New Found Glory, later focusing my attention to bands in the latest wave of pop-punk adoration like The Wonder Years, Man Overboard and Transit – this year’s offerings from a lot of bands have left me cold. And who could blame me, really? For a twenty-year-old college student, I’m just beginning to step outside of the primary age range for most of the genre’s bands.
That’s not to say that all bands have this effect on me, however. The Wonder Years’ latest record The Greatest Generation is among my favorites of the year so far – mostly due to how anti-genre they’ve become over their past couple of releases. Also worth mentioning are the simple, yet effective Mixtapes, who caught me off guard with their record Ordinary Silence back in June. However, when it comes to the genre as a whole, I feel that it’s time to explore other divisions of alternative music and move on to bigger things. Leave it to Albany, New York quintet State Champs to prove me wrong and leave me with a little hope for the genre with The Finer Things – an insanely catchy, thoroughly energetic full-length debut from Pure Noise Records.
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s get one thing straight: State Champs is still making pop-punk here. I feel like I’m pigeonholing an entire genre of listeners, but it’s only in order to fully analyze what The Finer Things brings to the table and nothing more. Regardless of that fact, right off the bat I have to give State Champs credit where credit is due – this is a ridiculously fun record. Kicking things off on a high note is “Elevated”, the first single off The Finer Things which I reviewed a few weeks back when it was initially released. I couldn’t think of a better song to start off the album than this: from the opening distortion to its soaring melodies to its impressive verse to the chorus build, it sets the scene for what has the potential to be one of the genre’s best albums in 2013.
Carrying the team for State Champs and their latest material has to be vocalist Derek Discanio, whose impressive vocal range helps the band stand out in a sea of other pop-punk bands. His vocal style isn’t too far off from A Loss for Words’ Matty Arsenault, or even a heavy hitter like Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump. His best work on The Finer Things has to be from the previously released “Critical”; from the song, it’s easy to see that Discanio knows he has a killer set of pipes and isn’t afraid to show them off. Closer “Easy Enough” is big vocal highlight for the band as well, as it shows that Discanio has the ability to dip into a lower register yet still come up for air to belt out his share of higher melodies.
While the vocals are what make State Champs’ sound signature, it’s the band’s instrumentation that helps bring their sound full circle. Most notably, the guitar work that Tyler Szalkowski and Tony Diaz bring to the table is some of the most enjoyably prominent in their genre. In a style of music often categorized by the use of power chords and an occasional riff, the pair work together on tracks like “Elevated” and “Remedy” to help set themselves apart. It’s due to work like this that the band can be forgiven for a lack of differentiation between songs like “Deadly Conversation” and “Over the Line”. I also feel a little recognition is in order for producers Sam Pura and Steve Klein, who do an excellent job of capturing the band’s raw, yet smoothly polished sound.
All in all, The Finer Things is what a pop-punk record should sound like for all intents and purposes. Sure, more mature bands like The Wonder Years, The Swellers and Fireworks are pushing the genre forward and stretching its limitations, but when it comes to keeping it strictly to the basics, State Champs know their style down to a science.
Check Out: “Elevated”, “Easy Enough”, “Critical”
For Those Who Rock:
Hit the Lights’ Skip School, Start Fights
A Loss for Words’ No Sanctuary
New Found Glory’s Self-Titled