State Champs return to the scene after a two year absence from releasing new material and it’s probably not what was expected but it’s certainly not unwelcome. ‘Unplugged’ is a self described stripped back affair from the New York Pop-Rockers which doesn’t feel out of place in their back catalogue. In fact I think fans will welcome it. Although two tracks are reworks for the EP, we have four brand new tracks written for this release to wet the appetite of fans awaiting a full blown LP soon.
‘Unplugged’ opens with ‘A Thousands Hearts’ which immediately pulls in the classic State Champs sound. Despite being stripped back, there are a lot of melodic elements going on, this isn’t just a case of shoving the chords underneath the vocal lines. In this track and also ‘The Recipe’ there are beautifully crafted guitar lines woven together alongside a strong vocal presence from DiScanio. It all fits together nicely and makes it an enjoyable listen across the whole EP. It feels like the tracks were written in one go rather than being revisited and tweaked over and over.
The EP moves onto ‘10am’ and ‘Crying Out Loud’ both of which have that classic American Pop-Rock feel. These are the kinds of tracks I would imagine in my head when walking along a Californian beach. It’s cliched but it best captures the essence of these tracks to a British ear! ‘10am’ has a lot of weight to it for a stripped back number. It could easily slot onto a full release and wouldn’t feel out of place and that really shows how these tracks were specifically written for an acoustic release. It’s a welcome lift to the EP which shows that there is a lot of dynamism despite being an acoustic release. ‘Crying Out Loud’ is the stand out track from the new material and it rubber stamps this as a State Champs record. The chorus is gloriously catchy with an infectious repetitive hook. The verse is simple with a guitar and piano chords which allow the vocal lines to speak for themselves and help to lift the track into the big chorus. It’s an upbeat number hitting on more emotional feelings, which is a classic feel for this genre. This is a track that deserves a full band and release. If they felt the need to do this it would easily be one of State Champs best tracks.
Don’t think of this as a stripped back EP (because as I said, it’s not that stripped back!) but more of a different direction for the band and then it makes perfect sense.
The reworks of ‘Criminal’ and ‘Dead & Gone’ will make for interesting listening for existing fans. ‘Criminal’ has a country feel which takes the track in a welcome direction away from it’s Pop-Punk beginnings without completely losing the feel of the track. It works surprisingly well even for a track that sounds so different in its original form. As for ‘Dead & Gone’ it comes across as a completely different track. It’s now a slow paced, laid back ballad and it really works with the existing lyrics. State Champs are great at running emotional charged lyrics in upbeat tracks as the original of this track did, so the switch to an acoustic ballad was only natural. Again though it’s not a quick easy, through the chords in and hope for the best. The acoustic nature of the track is well thought through.
There is one smudge on an otherwise perfect window pane of an EP, in that it’s not all that ‘unplugged’. There is still a lot going on instrumentally on many of these tracks. ‘10am’ and ‘Criminal’ are still using a full band although granted the acoustic guitar takes the bulk of the work. It might sound like a small issue until you hear the second half of ‘A Thousand Hearts’ which breaks into full band for its middle eight along with a saxophone solo?!? As a sax player myself I should be delighted but I just don’t think it fits on this ‘unplugged’ record. It sounds like an 80s pop track but not in a good way (think George Michael – Careless Whisper). The band clearly want to show their great range of influences, but it just stands out too much on a record like this. It’s the only thing really on an otherwise awesome EP.
Sometimes a band can drop an acoustic release and it’s just so flat. It can expose vocal weaknesses and uninspired, lazy musicianship. But for State Champs it just highlights their songwriting prowess and a keen ear for how to craft some great songs. Don’t think of this as a stripped back EP (because as I said, it’s not that stripped back!) but more of a different direction for the band and then it makes perfect sense. The band said they wanted to get back to their roots with just hanging out and writing songs on acoustic guitars and having fun and this EP perfectly shows how that is the process for writing great songs. Released on Pure Noise Records 14th August 2020
‘Unplugged’ is out now and can be downloaded from iTunes – https://music.apple.com/gb/album/unplugged-ep/1514347756
We hope you’ve enjoyed our review! What do you think of the band’s latest, acoustic EP? Are you as much of a fan as us? What would you rate it out of 5? Please leave your thoughts in a comment or via our social media.