Who said an old dog can’t learn new tricks? A recognized act in the pop-punk world, State Champs has been enthralling Vans-wearing audiences for the past eight years. Its third album, Living Proof, is a clear declaration that the band isn’t afraid of change — instead, the band embraces it.
Despite being a band that sad, “emo” teens love to flock to, State Champs’ music has never actually been all that sad. It has been angry at times (such as in its 2013 debut album The Finer Things) and exhilarating at others (such as in its 2015 sophomore album Around the World and Back).
But themes of loss and grief haven’t often found a home within State Champs’ discography. This changed with the release of Living Proof, which is from all angles the product of a band that has a better grip on who it is and what it is trying to say — State Champs releases its dependence on rage and speaks more earnestly about matters of the heart.
The perfect examples of this evolution are three of the standout tracks featured on the album, which also happen to be the more sentimental songs: “Time Machine,” “The Fix Up” and “Our Time to Go.” Up until now, State Champs’ only ventures into a less angry and more heart-wrenching side of pop punk were “Around the World and Back” off the album of the same name and the 2014 EP The Acoustic Things, which reimagined previously released songs.
Including three heart-wrenching songs, rather than just one, is a big decision. And it’s no coincidence — “Time Machine” was co-written with pop-punk veteran and Blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus, whose vocals are featured on the song, while “The Fix Up” was co-written with All Time Low frontman Alex Gaskarth. “Our Time to Go” is another collaboration, having been co-written with renowned producer John Feldmann, who also co-produced the album.
This is not to diminish the band’s own skills. The five members co-wrote each of the songs on Living Proof, but in a recent interview, frontman Derek DiScanio discussed how much more honest and raw this album is compared to the rest and how the emergence of more serious themes was due to the influence of Feldmann. Even the best of bands can benefit from working with new collaborators, and in this case, the band definitely benefited.
It’s no question that this album is the most mature when pitted against the band’s other two full-length albums. As far as pop-punk bands go, State Champs has always been on the less gritty end of the spectrum, mixing pop and punk in equal parts. With Living Proof, it has taken advantage of the “pop” that is part of its brand in order to unapologetically yearn for someone who has been taken away (“Time Machine”) and grieve over a broken relationship (“The Fix Up”).
Of course, this is a still a State Champs album, and it still feels like one. With tracks such as “Dead and Gone” and “Mine Is Gold,” the band calls back to its original sound that was full of power chords, DiScanio’s strained vocals and shouted lyrics such as “Your heart is black and mine is gold” and “I wanna get some fucking sleep again.”
Fittingly, the first track of the album, “Criminal,” is a fun, bouncy song that, when performed live, will no doubt inspire concertgoers to jump up and down along with the beat. “Crystal Ball,” which was the second single released before the album’s release, is another track that sounds very much like an old State Champs song while still being distinct in its own right.
With Living Proof, the band has begun to redefine its commitment to pop-punk by stepping away from relying on anger — an emotion that can often overpower the genre. But State Champs hasn’t completely outgrown its license to rage about life, and that’s fine. As a whole, the album isn’t revolutionary; State Champs still sounds like State Champs. It is, however, “living proof” that State Champs is capable of keeping its music interesting and relevant within the pop-punk scene.
In “Our Time to Go,” Discanio sings, “Never thought we’d end up here / Now our future seems so clear / I can see the top of the world down here.” While the band may not be able to believe the magnitude of its success as it gears up for a second world tour, it’s not so hard for fans to believe. This is a carefully crafted album from a band that cares about developing its sound. State Champs may sing about being “dead and gone,” but the band is — much like pop-punk — alive and well.