For years, I’ve wondered what exactly it is that makes State Champion such a magnetizing band. Their approach to countrified folk isn’t overly complex, and I’ve heard a boatload of similar bands doing similar things. But for whatever reason, I always come back to State Champion for more, and for the longest time I haven’t been able to put my finger on why that is. With Send Flowers, I think I’ve finally figured it out.
Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Ryan Davis, these twangy country punks have been a band for more than a decade — I can’t pinpoint when they got started, but I absolutely remember watching them play at the Pour Haus sometime in the mid 2000’s. Since their vague inception, the band has gone on to release a small collection of brilliant records while touring their asses off, making a name for themselves across the indie rock landscape.
Ok, here’s the part where I tell you why I think the band resonates with me so deeply, but brace yourself — this might not be what you want to hear. As I’ve repeatedly listened to Send Flowers, I can’t help myself from comparing the way Ryan Davis approaches songwriting with none-other than Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz. It’s undeniable that the way Davis’ lyrics and vocal approach reek of a similar introspective poeticism with a harrowing vocal delivery that drives whatever feeling he’s emoting or story he’s telling. At times, the State Champion singer delivers just enough of a southern drawl to remind you of what part of the country he’s from, but make no mistake, he ain’t just another country/folk singer. He’s as clever as he is charismatic on each track on this record.
Yeah, I know, The Counting Crows went on to put out some really, really bad records, but I’m mostly comparing the two artists’ bare bones approach to song writing. This comparison is meant to be a high compliment to a guy who I believe might be the best folksy songwriter Louisville has ever been lucky enough to be home to.
My favorite song on Send Flowers is undeniably the slowed down, piano laden “Legends of Miami Bass”, a reflective tune that is warm and cozy, but also gut wrenching at the same time. While I’m never 100% certain of what Ryan is referring to, there are bits and pieces from each song that beg for a personal interpretation. Lines like “reduced to the memo line on a personal check” and “God has left us in charge” really gets me, not just as stand alone lyrics in a song, but also the solemn way they are delivered. It’s the most pleasurable kick in the stomach that I’ve received from a song in quite a while.
I also really like opener “My Over, My Under”, a song that fuses just a smidge of early 90’s garage rock into State Champion’s trademark twangy stamp on modern indie folk. As usual, Davis leads the way with a barrage of witty lines like “some people like playing the bad guy, some people like playing his friend… it’s all the same in the end.” Clocking in at just over 7 minutes, the song never feels too long or boring, kind of like a Public Enemy track where Chuck D goes on and on and on in each verse, but you’re ok with it because he’s fucking on.
The cold is apparantly here to stay for what is sure to be yet another brutal winter season, so pour yourself a glass of your favorite cheap whiskey, and warm yourself up with what might be my favorite record of the year. My highest recommendation.