Upset

Upset

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Upset's take on '90s pop-punk and grunge is more refined and powerful on their second album, 2019's Upset. Since their promising 2013 debut album and follow-up EP in 2015, the band has solidified into a quartet while spreading out the songwriting and singing duties. Original singer/songwriter Ali Koehler shares the mike this time with guitarist Lauren Freeman, who provides an alternate vision that's a little rougher -- both sonically and emotionally -- around the edges. For the most part, Koehler comes at her songs from a poppier, more melodic angle, while Freeman has a more angular and punk-derived style. Both of them are adept at crafting hooky, lyrically real songs that bounce and growl like a raw take on Superchunk or a hyped-up run through the mid-period Jawbreaker songbook. Derivative in a pleasing way, they also sound fresh and vital thanks to their lyrical outlook and their unvarnished vocals, and it helps to have Patty Schemel beating the living hell out of the drums. Her inspired playing keeps the energy level from ever flagging, and when mixed with the live-wire guitar sound played by Koehler and Freeman, and captured with no frills by Redd Kross' Steven McDonald, the effect is invigorating to say the least. On the record's best songs, the group transcend their influences and make music that would have stood out even in the overcrowded early '90s. Freeman's gut-ripping "Lucky Strikes Out" and Koehler's sweetly sad "No Exit" are two shining examples, while the rest of the album is full of similar rockers and ballads that showcase their pop smarts, tender emotions, and muscular playing to great effect. Adding Freeman to the mix was a great idea that made an already good band even better and Upset is a strong step forward from their debut and some of the best retro grunge-punk going in 2019.

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