State Champs – Kings of the New Age
Release Date: May 13, 2022 :: Pure Noise Records
For the better part of the last decade, it’s been a treat to watch State Champs’ climb to the top. You always like to see the bands you like find success, but seeing one that calls your own town home makes it feel that little bit extra. Back for their fourth full-length, Kings of the New Age, the Upstate four-piece stretch their lead from the front of the pack.
State Champs have always been a pop-punk band, and as the weather gets warmer, the unashamed, unabashed poppiness on Kings is a breath of fresh air. The hooks are as sharp as ever, the choruses are slick and stick on the first try, and the lyrics have that trademark amount of tongue-in-cheek we’ve always gotten from them.
When it comes to what you could consider the more standard or pure pop-punk sound, tracks like “Eventually” and “Outta My Head” are easy wins for a group with this much experience. Crisp, quick, clean, it’s practically on autopilot; it’s impressive how effortless they make being this good seem. “Where Were You” brings the balance of charm and snark that we’ve heard from previous lyrics, smirking “Something about you was electric / but now you’re pulling the plug. / Talk is cheap but you’re expensive / I think we’ve had enough. … I gave you my heart as a keepsake / but it wasn’t worth a damn. / You’re one to talk when you were two-faced / And I gave them both a chance.”
Where they step not quite out of their comfort zone, but maybe to the side of it and mix things up a bit is where we see the growth and confidence that they’ve brought to this new era. The vibrant “Act Like That” stands out with soulful guitars and a shoulder-shifting chorus. If I had to pick the one track of the eleven here that could find the most mainstream success, it’s this one by a mile. A real earworm and an impressive deviation into a new sound that State Champs are more than capable of pulling off.
The joke/cliché with pop-punk about “all I need are my friends, I hate this town, etc.” actually holds some water here, because some of the highest marks on the album come with some outside help, including Mitchell Tenpenny’s contribution to the aforementioned “Act Like That.” Starting from the top of the record, there are a few instances where one song is the best up to that point, only to be bested by the one that follows it. “Fake It” is a pop gem and an early favorite, but is swiftly overtaken by “Half Empty,” which retains its superiority throughout the remainder of the record.
Delivering the biggest, boldest sound State Champs has mustered up, what is already a booming chorus gets brought to greater heights later with the addition of Chrissy Constanza (Against the Current).
In real time, it’s a standout. But for me, even with how massive the pairing is, it still feels like there could have been that little bit more – as it builds to the final bridge and they combine to sing “I’m the glass half empty of every drink / You’re the other half of me,” the music falls out to give DiScanio’s vocals a brief moment of undistracted spotlight before repeating again with Costanza rejoining. I wish either Costanza had been given that moment to really belt or this short vocal-only segment could have featured both of them.
Now, if my only “issue,” which is used very loosely here, is this literal two-second blip, that should be more than enough to prove the point – this thing’s a 9.9 and is primed to be played on repeat.
On the flip side of that, the feature on single “Everybody But You” from Neck Deep’s Ben Barlow is … I’m not really sure. The track itself is high-energy and fun as hell, but that moment doesn’t do a whole lot for me. It doesn’t take away from the song by any means, but doesn’t really add all too much either. But hey, it’s a pop-punk album, can’t fault anyone for having some fun with it.
In a recent interview, frontman Derek DiScanio had said this album was the band’s way of staking their claim, saying “we’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’re fucking good at it.” And right from the draw, that confidence and self-certainty are on display: as “Here To Stay” clips and chips its way in, they quickly lead into the first chorus saying “Let’s be honest, we talked shit and meant it … knew from the moment, wouldn’t be the same. … The world will know that we’ll keep singing like always.”
If you’re going to talk a big game, you’d better back it up, and Kings of the New Age is a group betting on themselves and hitting it big.
And oh boy, do the boys hit it big.
For State Champs, each record has been a new stage and another step up:
The Finer Things was the introduction.
Around the World and Back was the follow-up, showing us that they were the real deal.
Living Proof was the statement album, cementing themselves as a powerhouse.
And Kings of the New Age is the takeover.
Without being too on-the-nose, yes, they’re here to stay.
Going forward, it’s just a matter of who wants to fight for runner-up.
01. Here To Stay
03. Everybody But You (ft. Ben Barlow)
04. Outta My Head
05. Fake It
06. Half Empty (ft. Chrissy Costanza)
07. Just Sound
08. Act Like That (ft. Mitchell Tenpenny)
09. Where Were You
10. Sundress (ft. Four Year Strong)
11. Some Minds Don’t Change
State Champs are:
Derek DiScanio – Lead Vocals
Tyler Szalkowski – Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Ryan Scott Graham – Bass, Backing Vocals
Evan Ambrosio – Drums