It’s kind of hard to believe it’s already been four years since States formed in the aftermath of Copeland’s breakup and vocalist Mindy White’s departure from Lydia. The journey for the indie-rockers thus far has been interesting to say the least – after releasing their debut EP Line ‘Em Up to widespread praise in late 2010, they looked to have stolen the hearts of indie-rock fans everywhere. However, 12 months later they released their debut full-length, Room to Run, which received a decidedly more lukewarm reception. The band opted for a more mainstream approach – even re-recording a sped-up version of “Generation” from the EP – but it just felt all over the place and, most importantly, had no lasting value. And that’s the biggest difference between Room to Run and the band’s new Kickstarter-funded album Paradigm – memorability.
Paradigm takes characteristics from both Line ‘Em Up and Room to Run and combines them to largely great effect. The more recent poppy tendencies are still here but are less frequent – and far more memorable as a result – while the jingly guitar lines and airy yet soaring melodies of the debut make a welcome return as well. It all makes for a much more confident and cohesive sound.
There is, however, one immediately noticeable difference on this record: the lyrics. I’m not sure who pissed off Mindy White recently, but on many of these songs she sounds much more world-weary, like someone who’s been through a lot of ups and downs and needed to get it all off her chest. The minimalistic album opener “Circles” is a perfect example. Starting with a soft electronic beat that calls to mind Radiohead’s “Kid A” (how’s that for world-weary?) and White’s wonderfully unique vocals, it’s a slow-building tune with some of the band’s strongest lyrics to date (“Never wait for words/they will lead you in circles/chasing after stars/I lost the moon”). Next up, “I Hope You Stay Gone” could not be much more different musically, with crunching guitars and spoken-word verses leading the way. It relays the story of a lover who committed adultery and White doesn’t hold back, her soaring vocals belting “I got your voicemail/No thanks I won’t return it/You want your things back/I might’ve left them burning.” Continuing the diversity, “Closer” sounds like it came straight off Line ‘Em Up with some of the aforementioned jingly guitar lines, a steady drumbeat and some soft, lovely crooning from White.
And yet, the most impressive turnaround on Paradigm is evident in the more electronic/pop-oriented songs. Where they were often the subjects of criticism on Room to Run, here they make up some of the strongest, catchiest and most outstanding tracks. “Erase It All” is a great example, and I guarantee you’ll be singing along to the chorus even before your first listen is finished. A soft, bass-driven pop tune that includes some lovely chimes in the verses, piano notes in the bridge and some of White’s most confident vocals, it combines everything we love about States into one of the best tracks on the album. “Fever” is a danceable tune that will have you bobbing your head up and down in no time with some catchy bass lines, a few synth parts and an infectious chorus. The soft pop-rock of “All In My Head” sees White showing off that stunning falsetto we love so dearly, while the simple and steady drum beat guarantees this song will be “all in your head”.
The only disappointing thing about Paradigm is that it lacks a beautifully heart-grabbing tune in the vein of previous closers “Asleep” and “Brighter Lights” (the latter featured on the reissued version of Room to Run). The closest this album comes to either of those is the piano-driven “Bones”, which fits into the mold well enough but is short of any truly special qualities. It also feels strangely placed, right in the middle of the album rather than at the end where it might be expected. The closer for this album, “Absolute”, is a fine song on its own but ends the album on a rather understated note following so many infectious songs before it.
All in all, Paradigm is an excellent return to form that fans of States’ previous works will enjoy and it should gain the band some new fans as well. Much stronger and more confident than its predecessor, the entire band seems more assured of themselves and the direction they’ve taken heading into the future. Is it the indie-rock perfection that the Line ‘Em Up EP hinted they were capable of? Not quite, but they’re getting closer. Perhaps full-length number three will be their magnum opus and vault them into the stratosphere, but until then, there’s more than enough indie-rock goodness on Paradigm for fans to enjoy in the meantime.