Photo Credit: Alex McDonell
Having led the early 2010s pop-punk revival, Kings Of The New Age is the first State Champs album released since the genre’s mainstream resurgence; which has been led by artists like Machine Gun Kelly, Olivia Rodrigo, and Gayle. Though this current moment offers the New York quintet an opportunity to reach new levels of stardom, the band’s fourth album reads more like a victory lap than it does a bid for something bigger.
The low stakes of Kings Of The New Age largely work in its favor. While hardly life-changing or revolutionary, the band’s first album in four years does manage to stave off some of the missteps that have plagued so many pop-punk albums of late. For one, it rejects the heavily compressed, drum-driven, Travis Barker-style (and often Travis Barker-led) sound that makes so many 2020s pop-punk releases sound indistinguishable from each other. The band’s lyrics, meanwhile, are rarely hugely thought-provoking but they do avoid the toxicity and self-seriousness that brings down so much of the music of their peers.
Opener “Here to Stay” sets the tone for the rest of the album – an assured, if shameless, hit of 2000s nostalgia, fit with a bold mission statement: “It’s safe to say we’re here to stay.” Nearly all of the Kings Of The New Age’s 11 tracks revolve around an on-and-off-again love. The band’s attempt to wrestle with this theme is a little hit and miss. “I’m the glass half empty of every drink” is, frankly, far too clichéd a line to serve as the lyrical centerpiece of “Half Empty”, and the uncharacteristic bitterness of “Some Minds Don’t Change” leaves the band ending their album at a disappointing low point. “Everybody But You” finds Derek DiScanio deploying what is genuinely a pretty scathing insult to a partner, “Being with you is like working on the weekend.” What’s less scathing, however, is the juvenile cry of “Cause I’m having a party, inviting everybody but you-u-u” which comes just a few moments later.
At its best, however, the band proves to be surprisingly adept storytellers. “Eventually” benefits from the band’s unwavering sincerity, as DiScanio sings of finally confronting what he’s spent a lifetime running away from. Meanwhile, despite “Half Empty’s” underwhelming lyrical conceit, there’s a palpable sense of tension created through the back and forth between DiScanio and Chrissy Constanza from Against The Current.
“Fake It” finds our narrator transported back to adolescent days in the skate park. While nostalgic in sound, its central truth is darker; a reminder that our younger days were never quite as rosy as we like to remember. “Playing fiction in a parking lot,” DiScanio sings in one incisive moment in the first verse – capturing the tragedy of having to pretend to be alright in the place where you’re supposed to be the happiest. “Fake It” is a heavier song than much of Kings Of The New Age, but it still doesn’t sacrifice what is the band’s greatest strength on their fourth album: their canny knack for infectious melodies and earworm hooks. Kings Of The New Age, like so much recent pop-punk music, takes you back to the sound of the early-to-mid 2000s. But unlike most of that music, this album asks you to really interrogate what that time was like – and what type of a person it has made you today.