Striking a balance between pop punk and post hardcore is nothing new, but the new ‘Picked Last’ EP from VA-based group Underdog Champs eschews the traditional points of fusion in favour of a more loose approach.
Bouncy opener “Love Songs” is an almost entirely traditional slice of emo-inflected punk pop with a borderline-meta approach to its lyrics that only reinforces that. A song that would work equally well booming out of a festival PA as trickling quietly from entry-level office speakers, it has a workmanlike quality common to the music of Underdog Champs that brings strong likeability. The swells of the outro recall Pierce the Veil’s “Hold On Till May”, but the song as a whole feels far more like the Warped Tour stalwarts of ten years ago. From this track alone there’s little indication of hardcore influences for the band.
They come rushing to the forefront on the subsequent “Picked Last”, an effective judder-and-charge intro complimented by frantic shouted vocals. The guitar work on this track is particularly enjoyable, with a surprising array of riffs deployed between the melodic chorus. A less linear arrangement than is typical (the song runs for nearly five minutes without sticking rigidly to a verse/chorus structure) is a double-edged sword in that on the one hand it keeps things consistently interesting, but on the other it does feel a tad laboured by its conclusion. Dropping a pogo metal riff and sizzling guitar solo at the very end does save face however.
Final track “Sedative” is another about face that sees Underdog Champs dip into ballad territory with delicately picked melodic guitar patterns and an understated backbeat. It’s a chance for the group’s vocalist to deploy a strong hook as the song as a whole builds across its runtime. Lyrics of love and love lost are hardly original, but effective in the multi-layered vocal soundscape that brings the EP as a whole to a close. “Sedative” is the most obvious indicator of maturity for the group and could nicely fit onto the most recent Taking Back Sunday record.
That band are the most obvious comparison point for the ‘Picked Last’ EP, but the diverse styles deployed across its three tracks mean that those with taste stretching anywhere between As It Is and letlive. will find something to appreciate. The disparate nature of the EP does mean it lacks cohesion but is an effective statement of the broad ambitions Underdog Champs have for their songs, and while they lack polish the quite live feel of the tracks suits what they’re trying to accomplish. Aforementioned descriptions will explain the best entry point track for each individual listener, but the EP as a whole is an enjoyable triumvirate of emotional rock.