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Music Review: The New Up – Better Off EP

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San Francisco’s The New Up is a quintet of alt-rockers that have quickly made a big impression on the indie rock world. Having recorded three EPs worth of music in 2008 – because albums are so yesterday – and releasing the first of them, Broken Machine, last year and a second one, Better Off this week, the female-fronted group was recently picked as one of three finalists for MTV’s “Best Bay Area Breakout Awards.” The winner will be announced during the live broadcast of the annual MTV VMA’s on Sunday, September 13.

This is quite an accomplishment for a group with only a couple of EPs and one album out (2007’s Palace Of Industrial Hope).

They are led by ES Pitcher, a talented front woman and guitarist who has been compared to everyone from Chrissie Hynde and Metric’s Emily Haines to Gwen Stefani. I’m not sure about Stefani but certainly the Haines comparison is apt, especially on New Up tracks including “Top of The Stairs,” a power-popper from Broken Machine.

While that first EP was a fine first outing in this trilogy of EPs, the brand new Better Off EP shows a stronger sense of musical melody and vocal harmony than anything The New Up’s released in the past.

Opener “Dear Life,” with its crunchy power chords, rocks like a cross between The Pixies and a faster version of the refrain of Weezer’s beloved hit “Say It Ain’t So.” Only this hot track hits hard right from the get-go and features a flute and wah-wah-pedal guitar in the bridge section that is purely The New Up. Bonus points for the cowbell in the choruses.

The title track of Broken Machine sees Pitcher singing of “taking chances.” But on the quintet’s latest, its willingness to diversify its sound is more conspicuous the deeper you go into the EP’s five tracks.

Better Off’s namesake shows off Drew Bertrand’s percussive skills, a little sitar, and Hawk West’s ever melodious flute. But the sure-to-be showstopper of this release is third track “Bitch,” with its pinnacle being the mid-song bridge that features a steady, dancefloor-ready beat followed by a Kirk Hammett-like guitar solo from lead guitarist Noah Reid. The hard rocking guitar riffs that set up the solo are as memorable as those on older New Up tracks like “Chewbacca’s Garden.” Reid also does well on vocals, joining Pitcher as co-lead vocalist, singing the lower harmonies while she handles the high ones.

Though not as instantly memorable as others on this EP, “F*** You Roger (Until Further Notice),” with its hypnotic and psychedelic single note guitar lines and strong group vocal harmonies that end it, is still a great number that exemplifies how The New Up has not only grown as a band over the years, but why they can’t be boxed into any particular genre. The New Up brings something different to the table not just with every release but with every new song.

Broken Machine had a relatively soft and lovely closing track called “Just Because” whose melancholic feel isn’t too dissimilar from fellow female-fronted San Francisco group Minipop’s “Precious.” On Better Off, The New Up again chose a chill-out track to close an EP. “Wait” reveals the group’s urban mid-western roots and charm, with ES Pitcher’s Chrissie Hynde-like vocal prowess soaring above dense piano chords. Hawk West’s serene flute lines likewise truly stand out on this, the softest – and depending on your preference, weakest – number on the EP.

The New Up’s sound may recall familiar rockers from the past at first. But after the EP is through, it will be clear as day to you The New Up is its own band, and getting better at what they do all the time.

In sum, Better Off is a versatile and mostly rockin’ EP. If you liked the first one (Broken Machine), you’ll definitely love this second one. The third EP in this trilogy will hit shelves in 2010.

For more on The New Up, including a full stream of Better Off and current tour information, check out thenewup.com or visit its Myspace page.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
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