Dawn Chorus #14: Upset – ’76

Dawn Chorus #14: Upset – ’76

Power pop blasts of complex feelings set to scuzzy guitar and juddering time signatures may not be anything new but this 2015 album from supergroup (yeah, we said supergroup) Upset has become a firm favourite with us, and remained a highlight of the genre. 

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Upset '76 album artworkArtist: Upset
Album: ’76
Label: Lauren Records
Year of release: 2015
Genre: power pop, cutecore

Four years pass in the blink of an eye, and yet seem like a lifetime ago. Our malleable perception of time strikes me hard when I think of this record: I know it only came into my life a few short years ago, and yet it feels as if I’ve always known it.

I know it made this middle-aged woman swell with the optimistic energy of youth and the possibilities of music. It made me want to start a band and stand awkwardly in front of people grinning ear to ear while I tried to play, and simultaneously consigned my dreams of being a musician to the bin sure nothing I did could resonate as heavily as this did with me before I even consider an ability to play something, anything.

’76 (at 8 songs and barely over 20 minutes perhaps this is an EP), the 2015 release from Upset, hooked me and hasn’t yet shown any sign of letting go.

Featuring Ali Koehler (Best Coast, Vivian Girls) and Patty Schemel (Hole, Death Valley Girls) it’s hardly surprising their sound is rhythm driven although Koehler leaves the kit here to front the group, with Le Sera guitarist Jenn Prince alongside. Brimming with scuzzing guitars and high harmonies, lyrically the tracks balance in a place between the possible and the reality, anxiety and excitement, the remembered overwhelm of teenage years emotions blasted out once more without being too over-thought. As a record it has a very pure, a very honest, energy where the fun of being in a band comes through as much as singing about feelings you don’t really know what to do with.

Opening with single ‘Glass Ceiling’ the frenzy takes no time to knock you off your feet, summery vibes blink through smallest gaps between lead and backing vocal, the guitar sliding through the open air of road trips and freedom. It’s the overlaid vocals, the catch in the round of just 1 minute of ‘Home’ which stuns you – the fills clattering as a breath is taken, the odd words breaking through before the whole thing changes: ‘I’m no role model / I fake it well / It doesn’t feel good / but at least it feels like something’.

It’s still summer but the light is fading. Without pause it’s into ‘Away’, to the right ears this is anthemic without posturing. You cast long shadows in the flickering light of a campfire, sand between your toes, holding as much wonder for yourself as you do any other. The faltering harmonies bring you back to the track: ‘I’m a victim of my own needing’

Sharp and punchy the tracks race through barely breaching the three minute mark, as literate lyrics cut through and it’s hard to argue that the ‘fresh starts, nostalgia and friendship’ the band say are thematically at the heart of this release, as well as the vibes of powerful femininity and teamwork have been anything other than hit head on. The whole thing only slows down and becomes gentler on closer ‘Wonder’ where those teenage feelings are firmly relived rather than ongoing. The energy is different here but its no less impactful for the quieter approach. The vocal almost breaks around the words, and along with it the heart too as you realise you’re still waiting: ‘I wonder about that summer when you turned left / and I went straight and I went under’. 

The changing time signatures and the clipped beats against the overdriven guitar sound, the catch of vocals layering and reflecting thoughts building internally until the crash and deep breath before the next things takes a hold. There’s self-reflection in here too as well as introspection, but where it lifts above so much power-pop is the casualness with which complex melodies are delivered, an unrelenting force these songs rip themselves free and remain raw rather than overworked. An album which always feels as if it’s on the verge of exploding, unable to contain its expanding sound and emotion any longer, and yet which is perfectly controlled at the same time, never a danger of this band losing their hold on what they conjure forth.

Every love is different and I know I’ll never be swept up in quite the same manner as ’76 hit me – it matched the days I was living then, and yet seemed able to peek into what I was still dreaming of to. It’ll always have my heart, and you should let it have a shot at yours too, for as smart-mouthed power-pop goes this album is a gem of the genre and doesn’t take a misstep throughout its 21 blisteringly brilliant minutes.

Dawn Chorus is a week day feature sharing an album to listen to on your morning commute, the school run, or at other times with the intention of surfacing classics you might not have given time to yet, indulging in old favourites, and helping you discover the best of new releases. If you’d like to suggest an album for the feature, or contribute a guest write up on an album you think more people should hear, get in touch

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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