State Champs – Unplugged (EP Review)

Just in time to mark their 10th anniversary, State Champs serves up the Unplugged EP on Friday, August 14, 2020, thanks to Pure Noise Records.

Albany, New York’s State Champs came together in 2010, delivering a series of EPs before making their full-length debut with 2013’s The Finer Things, which would go on to hit No. 2 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. As the band began to tour alongside the likes of A Day To Remember, New Found Glory, All Time Low, and more, they continued to add to their fanbase thanks to other Billboard-charting releases such as 2015’s Around the World and Back and 2018’s Living Proof. And while there have been lineup changes, sure, these New Yorkers continue to make a proud name for themselves.

So to celebrate their first decade as a band, State Champs—Vocalist Derek DiScanio, Guitarist Tyler Szalkowski, Bassist Ryan Scott Graham, and Drummer Evan Ambrosio—is ready to deliver their first new music since Living Proof. The 6-song Unplugged EP combines two reimagined favorites off their aforementioned 2018 release, along with four brand spanking new offerings. And yes, they are all (mostly) acoustic tracks that cross genres to unapologetically display their love for all music, from Pop to Country and beyond.

The Unplugged EP opens with the four new tracks, the first of which is “A Thousand Hearts.” Beautifully delicate acoustics accompany DiScanio’s vocals as he swims through the dating pool to find The One in this melodic rocker that features a killer soprano saxophone solo that would make Kenny G blush. Next up, the instant need to sway along to “The Recipe” is contagious as the super sweet bop reminds us that no relationship is paint-by-numbers, and in order to formulate a perfect love we have to forego our shopping lists.

Continuing to deliver outstanding material, they shine on the experimental “10 AM,” an ironically upbeat plea for love to be enough. Then, amping the pace a bit, they launch into the sassy “Crying Out Loud,” the story of a heartless girl who taught DiScanio to never depend on anyone. Showcasing both the Punk Rock grit and the delicious infectiousness that State Champs do so well, it maintains that ironically upbeat feel of its predecessor as the band offer up emotionally heavy lyrics focused on breakup, loneliness, and moving on.

You don’t have to travel too far back in time to discover the source material for “Criminal” and “Dead & Gone.” Much like “10 AM,” “Criminal (Acoustic)” is not entirely acoustic. But all nitpicking aside, the track is still a brilliant addition to the reimagined collection with a delicate Country influence that adds some slide guitar to wrap around Szalkowski’s elegant acoustic work as the band maintain a marching pace. Ultimately, however, it’s Punk attitude for the closer “Dead & Gone (Acoustic),” which was actually co-written with blink-182’s Mark Hoppus. Worthy of a sing-along, toes will tap as the track spells out the eternal search for redemption, turning moving on into an anti-celebration.

All of this said, on the Unplugged EP, State Champs take their craft to the next level. The largely acoustic format reignites their material, showcasing their melodic Pop sensibilities and beautifully diverse sonic influences. From Punk to Country it’s all here in a collection that is Pop Rock with a folksy approach to its storytelling. This lends a universal appeal to Unplugged, one that sees State Champs offering something that could easily be on Top 10 radio. And that’s far from a negative, as the foursome shine brilliantly in the stripped down atmosphere as they relate their triumphs (and failures) in the game of love. For this, Cryptic Rock gives State Champs’ Unplugged EP 5 of 5 stars.

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Jeannie BlueAuthor posts

Jeannie likes to joke that she is little, yellow, blue, and different. She seemingly popped out of her mother's womb with a pen in her hand and has been writing ever since. Many moons ago - in what feels like a separate lifetime - Jean was co-editor of an online music magazine that afforded her great opportunities to interview and photograph some of her favorite bands/musicians: Tommy Lee, Good Charlotte, Warrant, Bring Me The Horizon, My Chemical Romance, Sevendust, New Found Glory, Deftones, Poison, VH-1 "Band On the Run" Flickerstick, an endless list of unsigned locals, and so many others. These days, she can usually be found hiking aimlessly through the woods in her favorite Technicolor sneakers with a Nikon in hand and her rescue dog, Molly, who is a bit hare-brained.

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