If you’re a fan of good pop music, We The Kings is the band for you. Full of catchy hooks and dynamic song structures, their albums are perfect for the summertime, and their latest release is no exception. However, though the vocals are still the highlight, Sunshine State Of Mind offers a few tweaks on the band’s formula, as more acoustic guitars and strings adapt the band’s sound for the better. Though it’s not without its weaknesses, this is certainly the sort of album that’s made for this time of year, and will make you sing along and bob your head in the next few months until fall rolls around.
From the first few seconds of “Friday Is Forever,” you get a pretty good idea of what’s in store for the rest of the album: summery pop with little care for anything too negative. Chatter in the background gives the impression of a group of friends sitting around as the band plays, maybe at a picnic or barbecue. The introduction of strings midway through the first verse provides a great counterpoint for Travis Clark’s melodies and gives the track a nice polished feel. Though the lyrics leave something to be desired, the hooks are flawless and everything from guitar accents to faint hand claps finds just the right place among the more pronounced strings and vocals, which prove to be the band’s main strength. As a fan of the acoustic guitar, it’s nice to hear it in such a great pop context. On the whole, this is the perfect start to Sunshine State Of Mind and definitely lives up to the type of sound that the song and album titles suggest.
“Say You Like Me” continues right where the lead single left off, with more lyrics about a girl, a catchy chorus, and verses rather appropriate for a beach party. The bridge of this song hints toward some of the edge that was present on the band’s debut, though it’s pretty clear that those aspects have taken a much smaller role in comparison to the more pop-based elements. Despite the fact that some might fault We The Kings for their sound’s evolution, I personally find it difficult to do so when they have such a knack for the sort of melodies and tone found in the first two tracks of this album. It’s a bit of a different path, but it’s clear that the band is pretty good at making pop music that caters to a different crowd than the typical Top 40 fare.
The quick opening and verses of “Every Single Dollar” provide a nice rhythmic change from the similar structures of the first two tracks, while keeping the summery tone still very present. Eliminating the slower portions and keeping everything moving makes it seem like a great driving song. Judging from lyrical content, “Friday Is Forever” is the transition between two girlfriends, “Say You Like Me” is the beginning of the new relationship, and “Every Single Dollar” is the grace period where everything is great and “money ain’t no problem when love’s free.” Overall, it’s an upbeat song that manages to be cute without being overly saccharine. “The View From Here” is the first break from the buoyancy of the album’s opening tracks, and its instrumentation and melodies in the verses remind me a lot of something that He Is We might write. The song does a good job of building gradually, with the first chorus showing restraint and the second adding a few more elements until the bridge allows everything to open up. The only thing holding the song back is a lack of inspiration in the lyrics and melodies that become a bit repetitive, leaving the track as one of the more forgettable on the album.
“The Secret To New York” bears a title that seems a touch out of place on an album called Sunshine State Of Mind, and the overall sound seems like it would fit better with some of the songs from the band’s first record than the summery pop tunes that define this release. Though some of the album’s strongest lyrics appear in this song, the end of the chorus (“nothing matters anymore, and that’s the secret to New York”) is a somewhat sad offering for what had the potential to be one of the best songs on the album. That said, the track gives a nice touch of variety and should be a favorite for people who favored We The Kings over Smile Kid.
“Sleep With Me” is good if you can manage to block out the desperation in the lyrics. While the last line of the chorus (“I want you to want no one else other than me”) isn’t bad at all, it’s not quite enough to match repeated pleading to “sleep with me” that precedes it. It’s a bit sad that the bridge’s riff (“I was blinded, but now I see”) had to be juxtaposed with the rest of the song’s content. Once again, the instrumentation and melodies here had some potential, but the lyrics and overall lack of integrity and conviction in them leaves this as my least favorite song on the album.
The lyrics of “Over You” provide more or less exactly what you’d expect: a little reminiscing on an old relationship with a positive attitude toward “better days” that “are just days away.” The acoustic guitar, chimes, and drums provide a nice foundation for Clark’s melodies, making this a catchy track that’s a breath of fresh air following “Sleep With Me.” The ending of this track is one of my favorite parts of the whole album. The following song, “Kiss Me Last,” is another that’s somewhat like the sound of We The Kings, particularly in the chorus. The verses and overall instrumentation have an aggression that’s unique in comparison to the rest of the album and reminds me a bit of Jimmy Eat World while still sounding like We The Kings.
“Somebody To Call My Own” reels the more pop-based tone back in for the verses, while tugging at some heartstrings in the chorus. The guitar parts in the pre-chorus really stand out to me, and the tone is perfect for the bridge, making the part seem different from the acoustic strums in a few of the earlier songs on the album, despite being a similar idea from a structural standpoint. On the whole, it’s nice to hear a bit of melancholy from the chorus infused with the upbeat melodies and lyrics in the verses. Save for a few lyrics, this is another one of my favorite songs on the album. Closer “You And Only You” is another slow track, though it’s definitely more dynamic than “The View From Here,” particularly when the bridge comes out of the second chorus. I really love the strings throughout the track, and they really hold interest in one of the rare instances where Travis Clark’s voice doesn’t completely steal the show. Though I like a lot of the lyrics, I can’t help but feel that I’d appreciate them a good deal more if I were a different gender. Regardless, I really enjoy the song and can’t imagine a better way to end this album.
If you long for the sound of the band’s debut, this might not be the album for you (though you might enjoy a few songs). However, if you’re in the mood for some generally upbeat and fun songs with more heart than the typical Top 40 song has to offer, Sunshine State Of Mine just might be one of those records that stays in your car for months on end. Though it does have a few missteps and is a bit front-loaded, the album offers a seemingly endless selection of catchy hooks and a lot of really nice acoustic guitar strumming and string parts. The production gives the album a polished pop feel, and Travis Clark’s voice is near perfect. In the end, if you can let the lackluster lyrics slide, this record contains some of the best pop songs so far this year and is well worth at least a few spins in the sun with the windows down and nowhere in particular to go.