I’ll admit that when A Social State first got in touch with me just over four months ago and I saw that they were from Scranton, Pennsylvania my mind immediately went straight to The Office (US). I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d hear / read the name and not immediately picture Steve Carrell celebrating Diwali with a girlfriend dressed like a cheerleader, chances are you might be doing the same thing right now – sorry about that. A Social State probably get that a lot and, like punk heroes The Menzingers (to mention a less comedic and equally brilliant / more relevant export) it’s because they hail from Scranton, and How To Get To Heaven is their second full-length release following 2012’s debut Everyone’s Your Friend.
Produced by Steven Haigler (Brand New, The Deer Hunter, The Pixies, Transit and more) How To Get To Heaven‘s background already impresses before the record even begins, and the band’s sound isn’t too far removed from any of this artists. A Social State’s second full-length features 13 fairly adventurous rock songs with a slower, indie edge, and there’s a strong emphasis on craft and musicianship throughout; expect ambitious choruses and thoughtful songwriting, both sonically and thematically. With the help of Haigler’s production everything comes together well, and after creeping opener Milk subsides A Social State really hit their stride with dynamic second track Side By Side. After a somewhat unsettling first song the second wastes no time, rolling in on spirited instrumentation before dropping off slightly as vocalist Edward Cuozzo enters the picture, before the song gathers momentum and transitions effortlessly into a catchy, memorable chorus. Lyrically it sets the tone, dark in nature, with Cuozzo singing ‘When you’re gone away I’m lost, and when I’m gone I’m breaking bonds to you’ between sleepless nights. At times How To Get To Heaven is more upbeat, there’s a friendly stomp to the infectious, radio-friendly Unlike You, and even though the song’s lyrics are still reflective and weighted the song has a breezy feel to it before caving to a brash, climbing chorus. Personal favourite Golden Mary again shifts between a few moods, nostalgic with a striking attention to detail, with Cuozzo really pushing himself vocally towards the end as he laments ‘I will memorise all the colours and the pictures of youth’ as though it’s all slowly slipping away, despite the band as a whole rarely sounding more confident and self-assured as they do during this track.
As a collection of songs How To Get To Heaven is a compelling selection, easy to immerse yourself in and punctuated with a few more memorable selections. Kidnapped would be one such selection, featuring my favourite chorus from the record, and it was one which reminded me greatly of Finnish band HIM – it’s theatrical and grand in a similar sort of way, sweeping and cinematic, sculpted to perfection. I mention HIM, a band I loved just under a decade ago, and at times How To Get To Heaven is very reminiscent of mid 00’s rock music, and it’s tough to place exactly why. There’s a general feel to it which I personally associate with those few years; the years in which I really became invested in the genre, and that’s perhaps why records like How To Get To Heaven sit so favourably with me. A Social State’s sophomore full-length sounds dated in a good way, the way that perhaps American Idiot or Lullabies To Paralyze would if you listened to them today – although it doesn’t really compete with the legendary status of either of those records. Whether intentional or not, this nostalgic feel to the record benefits it, shining through on standout track Aging Egomaniac, which definitely carries shades of Green Day, particularly in Cuozzo’s vocals. The song falls within the second half of the record, and it’s a half which generally slows things down in contrast to the energy of the opening selection of songs, leaning moreso towards the indie side of the bands indie-rock approach. The ninth track and lead single is another thoughtful song, showcasing some of the better, self-dissecting lyrics, and it cruises during reserved verses, perking up for a chorus which is as charming as the record gets. It’s light despite its content, with lines like standout ‘I get lost in the mirror, have I made it clear I’m a burnt out Cobain wannabe’ contrasted by carefree instrumentation, with the song throwing in a brief guitar solo of sorts towards the end. It’s a great track, and a fitting single, and it displays a softer, more pensive side to the band musically, content to drift whilst knowing it can turn the tables at any moment, and it’s very well written, expressive in a way which isn’t overbearing. Cuozzo is an engaging narrator, and on songs like Aging Egomaniac his lyrics are insightful, with his vocals conveying them well. On eleventh song Velvet Hearts he stirs up some great imagery, painting a picture, and the songs final thirty seconds is one of the records best moments, as another slow track thickens up for an emotional climax, with the members of the band I’ve unfairly overlooked really delivering.
To an extent How To Get To Heaven is a record of two halves best enjoyed in one sitting, but on the closing title track the two slightly differing sounds come together, and as closers tend to be, How To Get To Heaven is the emphatic end that the record deserves, a lengthy track beginning reserved and unravelling. As the song progresses layers are added before eventually relenting to a gentle cruise, guitars weaving as Cuozzo ponders ‘Am I just a broken bottle buried in the sand, waiting for the curious to take me as I am?’, repeating the lines as the track rises and builds to a triumphant peak. It’s brilliant, and it sees How To Get To Heaven end on a high, offering some genuine food for thought alongside dynamic instrumentation.
Maybe it’s difficult to take a review seriously when it begins by mentioning a US sitcom and an ancient Hindu festival, but How To Get To Heaven is a record which should be taken seriously. It has its weaker moments admittedly (Oh, We May Live and Subtract The Headache), but there are also plenty of occasions in which the band get it absolutely right, with these finer tracks often sticking around long after the record has drawn to a close. A Social State’s second full-length is one I would recommend, and it’s set for release September 6th, with the band playing a release show at TwentyFiveEight Studios on the day in, you guessed it, Scranton.
Listen to: Golden Mary / Aging Egomaniac / How To Get To Heaven