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State Champs album Living Proof has a slightly different sound than their previous releases. During my first listen, I found the new style a bit unsettling. It sounds more “produced,” and “shiny,” and contains more “open space.” Far too often, the vocals take over and the instrumentals take a back seat. This takes place during quite a few verses throughout the album, and although strong instrumentals do certainly kick in during a lot of the choruses, I just can’t help feeling that too many verses are missing something. Now, I am not saying the album lacks quality guitar because there are some great guitar parts, but the guitar just seems to be used in a different way.
The king of album reviews “ARTV” commented that State Champs had been “Feldman-ized,” referring to the new overproduced sound that seems to come whenever producer John Feldman works on a project. People complained about this sound on Blink 182’s California, as well as All Time Low's Future Hearts and so many more of Feldman’s projects. I don’t always “hate” Feldman’s sound, but for me, it can cause a project to sort of mesh together. I saw that more with Blink, but I still see it happening a bit with this release.
Now lyrically there wasn’t as big a change as there was musically. It was a typical State Champs album lyrically (and that isn’t a bad thing at all). I wouldn’t say the lyrics are profound or awe-inspiring, but they don’t claim to be. For the most part, they are everything they need to be—smart, relatable, and honest.
The album starts off with “Criminal,” a pop-punk song with a twist. It has a catchy chorus and lyrically sound verses. However, during its chorus, all the instrumentals turn very low and it is mostly just a shiny guitar tone and the vocals until the end when Derek screams, “IT’S CRIMINAL,” and at that point all the instrumentals that appeared to be missing from the chorus kick in all at once. At first, this just sounded like the open space I complained about earlier, but I have grown to see the appeal as an artistic choice. The second song for me is very classic State Champs and offers not much new and exciting except the guitar riff (which is very enjoyable). Then it goes into the singles "Crystal Ball" and "Dead and Gone." Two songs that I enjoy, but are examples of the verses containing “open space” and without the guitar I found the album to be lacking far too much. "Dead and Gone" has a HUGE chorus that will stick in your head for days, and "Crystal Ball" is everything I enjoy about State Champs and pop-punk for in the first place.
I find the album slows down for the next two songs, as I find "Lightning" and "Our Time to Go" to be nothing too special. Worried about the album only getting worse, I was pleasantly surprised with "Safe Haven." I love the guitar and think the transition between the pre-chorus and the chorus was done masterfully. Derek’s vocals are fantastic, especially in the insanely catchy chorus. Its lyrical content is just fun and happy. A definite step up from the previous two tracks. The album also featured some great slowed down tracks. Songs like “The Fix Up,” and “Time Machine” pull at the heartstrings and if a person is going through something similar I can see how a connection can be made to those songs. "The Fix Up" is reminiscent of "All or Nothing" from Around the World and Back, but I find it to be a step up. Its lyrical content is less repetitive and the chorus will pull you in with a lot more force. My personal ballot is still out for "Time Machine." The song features Mark Hoppus from Blink 182, and I just can’t make up my mind about it. I thoroughly enjoyed and was pleasantly surprised by the piano, but the crashing sound that happens with the percussion I was not a fan of at all. As well, I think Derek sounds fantastic on this track, but the Hoppus feature was a let down for me. Mark usually does amazing with featured bridges, but this one almost sounds forced and unfitting for the song.
I would have to say "Mine is Gold" is one of the best songs on the album. Although I find it to have the empty space I have been complaining about, I think this song uses that space the best. The guitar in the verses, although not overbearing, goes great with the song. The chorus slows down from the verses which was risky, but I think they pulled it off great, and it ends up being a chorus to remember. "Cut Through the Static," is where we get the title of the album. I think the song is pretty good, and I feel the more I listen to it the more I will enjoy it. The one problem I have with it is the line where the album title comes from. I don’t quite think it makes sense. “Let’s cut through the static and be the living proof.” It is either going above my head or doesn’t make a lot of sense. "Sidelines" was an interesting song to end the album just because it doesn’t seem to have anything special about it. I don’t hate it, but it also isn’t my favorite at all.
Overall the more I listened the more I liked the album, but also the more I noticed the problems I had with the production. I do have some problems with the album, but overall I think it was a good effort and has some solid songs, I will definitely be coming back to.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Favorites Tracks: "Dead and Gone," "Safe Haven," "Crystal Ball," "The Fix Up"
Least Favorite: "Time Machine," "Lightning"