The sign of a great band is one that sounds fantastic once all the bells and whistles are stripped away. State Champs has shown off this quality before with The Acoustic Things and they’ve done it again with their new EP, Unplugged. With each of their first three albums, State Champs have emerged as one of the best pop punk bands around today, if not the best. Unplugged proves that they’re not only an excellent pop punk band, but they’re just an excellent band, period.
The EP consists of four new songs and two reimagined Living Proof tracks. Unplugged kicks off with the beautiful “A Thousand Hearts,” which is this EP’s “If I’m Lucky.” The opener is a sweet love song where singer Derek DiScanio sings about finally finding the person he wants to give his heart to. It’s basically the song version of the saying “you have to crack a few eggs before you make an omelet.” The band delivers on each note throughout the track with a steady drum beat, piano and acoustic guitars. However, it’s Saxl Rose that steals the show with a killer saxophone solo at the 3:04 mark. The instrument fits in well throughout the song and it helps kick the EP off on a high note. (P.S. if you haven’t heard of Saxl Rose before, do yourself a favor and head over to YouTube and check out his pop punk covers. I recommend his covers of A Day To Remember’s “If It Means A Lot to You” and Blink-182’s “Always.”)
The sappiness continues on “The Recipe” with more easy guitar playing from guitarist Tyler Szalkowski (with a touch of electric guitar at just the right time) and light percussion. DiScanio’s lyrics come off slightly corny here, as he compares a growing love to a long recipe he never thought would mean everything to him. Cheesy, but not the worst acoustic love song in the world.
While the first two songs on the EP will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, things get a lot colder towards the middle of Unplugged. “10 AM” is sprinkled with electronic noises, a steady drum beat and laid back guitars, giving the song a fitting foreboding feel. This track is sung from the point of view of someone in a relationship who knows it’s soon coming to an end, but doesn’t want it to. “When will my love just be enough?/When will my love not be a crutch?/If it’s not for you/Then I hope someone feels the way that I do” DiScanio sings. “Crying Out Loud” sounds like a fun, summery song, (with more catchy acoustic riffs from Szalkowski), but when you look deeper the lyrics are from the perspective of someone who is frustrated and insecure in a relationship because the person they’re with gives no indication of how they feel.
“Criminal” kicked off Living Proof with a burst of energy and was an earworm that set the tone for that album. It was nice to hear a much dialed back version of this song, where you can focus more on the lyrics instead of wanting to rock out. Stripping this song back to its most basic form, shows why it’s one of their best songs in their catalog. The reworked “Dead & Gone” reminded me of acoustic Yellowcard, particularly the Ocean Avenue Acoustic album. State Champs is able to pump the breaks on another anthemic song and create a track that fans will still want to sing along to, while admiring the beauty in it’s sound.
Overall, this is yet another solid acoustic EP from one of the best pop punk bands around right now. It’s a good summer listen and is something you can put on to relax. However, just don’t expect it to be up there with other classic albums that have the moniker “unplugged” in their title. Whenever you hear “unplugged” the epic Nirvana album MTV Unplugged in New York might come to mind or famous performances by Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Kiss, Stone Temple Pilots or Dashboard Confessional. This album is not on the level of those. Now that’s not to say State Champs can’t produce something on that level. Put these guys on an acoustic tour once concerts are a thing again and who knows, they could record a classic night that’s on par with some of the greats. Until then, we can take solace in this batch of slow jams and enjoy the last few weeks of summer.