Album Review: Upchuck – Bite the Hand That Feeds

4/5

There’s something innately alluring about the mystique. The fascination with what is unexplainable to what meets the eye, the craving for more knowledge, to peel back the layers and reveal the underbelly of any given situation. On their sophomore album, Bite the Hand That Feeds, Atlanta’s Upchuck, utilizes the intrigue of mystery to their benefit. Disguising pop songwriting behind a mask of raucous musicality, and a sense of sensitivity within the chaos of its track list.

The 13 track album sets out amongst an ominous yet captivating setting: a city late at night, in the hours when the freaks come out to play. From an alter-ego perspective, lead singer Kalia, “KT,” Thompson sings from inside the scene, observing the smiling, laughing faces around her. “And the long nights and the cruel hearts I give my all in the long run but I lose it all, I lost it all to start over again,” she sings, debuting the band’s implementation of the art of illusion. The lyrics probe at the concept of identity, about the connectivity with the external world, beneath the face of its punchiness and steadfast energy.

As the album progresses, Thompson touches on topics ranging from the fleetingness of young love, to the injustices that her and her bandmates see and experience on a daily basis. The majority of the time, what Thompson is saying on the album is indiscernible, muddled by the distorted guitar tones and breakneck pace, but upon closer listens, the raw vulnerability is worthy of praise.

Sonically, the release opens with a bang, and keeps the energy high throughout, while also dipping into some experimentation with style and genre. The fifth song on the LP, “Crashing” comes as a pleasant change of pace, baring the band’s pop influences more visibly on their sleeves with a grooving Kim Deal-esque bass line, a catchy chorus, and simple yet effective hooks and phrases sprinkled throughout. 

Compared to their debut album, Sense Yourself, on this release, Upchuck step into a version of their band that is more raucous,  playful, and uninhibited. The release comes with more noise and aggression, and with that a stronger sense of confidence and assurance in their sound and purpose as a band. They present their influences in the lineage of punk proudly, in everything from the doo-wop style riff reminiscent of The Ramones on “NYAG,” and the simple yet effective basslines that call on famous tracks by Pixies. 

The most attention grabbing element, and arguably the most impressive, on the release is the vocal style that Thompson possesses. Blustering, punchy, and harnessing an emotive quality that cuts through the magic tricks and exposes the honesty and vulnerability in the songs beyond the spectacle of its punk exterior. Without Thompson’s characteristic vocal style, Upchuck would not be nearly as bewitching as the album proves they are.

The third to last song on the album “Long Gone” comes in with a whopping run time (for a punk track) of five minutes and 50 seconds, which doesn’t feel like a drag by any means, but doesn’t necessarily call for the extra two to three minutes. The album’s final track “It Comes,” delivers a more sludgy, grunge feel that’s new for the band, yet not as tantalizing as the higher energy songs that the release opened with. Despite my minor grievances with its closing, the overall experience of the album was a musical fun house with excitement, weirdness, and unexpected revelations around every corner, that transformed me into an Upchuck fan.

From the authentic punk production, given new breath by Ty Segall’s psych rock influence, to the masterful composition of each track, and the perfectly unobtrusive yet poignant lyricism, I could be here all day discussing the intricacies of this album that set it apart from similar new releases in its genre. But to keep it short and sweet, it’s suffice to say that Upchuck is undeniably one of the most interesting and talented up and coming bands in the current state of punk and hardcore music.

Bite the Hand That Feeds is out now via Famous Class Records. Catch Upchuck on tour this fall in Support of Faye Webster. 

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