THE UPPERS – Manic Melodies EP

The Uppers’ debut EP ‘Get Down With…’ introduced garage rock fans to a high energy band whose stock sounds often sounded like a souped up version of The Real Kids. Armed with a 60s twang and a CBGB’s punk energy, the St. Louis four piece immediately sounded ready to take on the world.

A long awaited follow up, 2023’s ‘Manic Melodies’ offers fans – and should be fans – much more of the same. It delivers maximum thrills in the riff department, on a quartet of high octane tunes that wouldn’t have sounded out of place supporting Ramones or Dead Boys at CBGB’s in 1977. Yes, that means their material reworks a hugely familiar formula, but that only makes it all the more pleasing. At its very best, this second EP sounds like a well worn, instant garage punk classic. Even at its weakest, it makes the band sound like the natural heirs to a few garage rock heroes, capable of delivering trashy riffs aplenty.

Opening with a hard edged stop/start rhythm, drums and muted guitar chords count in ‘Stimulation’ in a very direct way. As the arrangement finds its feet, it lives up to the punchy promise when a broader guitar sound steers everything through a fine slab of trashy punk ‘n’ roll that packs a whole world of great stuff into just over two minutes. Armed with a fine blend of CBGB’s style punk and a rock ‘n’ roll spirit, the song really sells a shout along chorus, but it’s the musicianship that wins out. A busy bassline almost appears to dance its way through the middle of the track and a vaguely metal tinged lead guitar break gives everything an extra edge that standard retro punk lacks. On top of that, you’ll find more chopping guitars beefing up the rest of the track, and an over enthusiastic vocal that cares more for excitement than perfection. Sounding like the ghosts of Dead Boys colliding with The Godfathers, it’s a punk ‘n’ roll banger that’s hard to beat.

That said, The Uppers manage to cram even more excitement into the EP’s second track. ‘Madam Please’ opens with a very retro riff that’s dominated by a jangling guitar, which makes the band sound like a punkier answer to The Len Price 3. Branching off into the first verse, the track stokes up the punkier elements, sharpening the guitar and boosting the drums, but it’s great to hear that the melodic intro wasn’t a red herring. The band revisit this to beef up a really catchy chorus, and the fuller sounding music is afforded a stronger vocal for the ultimate send off. Bringing in a few unexpected twin lead guitars for a big climax accentuates the 70s feel of the track brilliantly, showing how – despite constantly conveying a feeling of trashiness – these guys can really play. Obviously, you’ll stumble across another strong chorus hook here too, making it a really full blooded garage rock gem.

As for the remaining pair of tunes, neither are as quite as ferocious, but both have plenty of rough ‘n’ ready charm which should more than please genre fans everywhere. ‘Don’t Start’ latches onto a buoyant riff that’s a touch more melodic than typical Uppers fare, blending the punk of Dan Vapid & The Cheats with the proto-punk/rock of The Real Kids. A wall of speed driven, chiming guitars brings a huge energy throughout, but its the band’s use of power pop harmonies that makes the track a potential classic, and the way they apply those to a simple and repetitive hook ensures this punky workout will stick. Musically, there’s a little more interest via an overdriven rock ‘n’ roll lead guitar break bringing everything further in line with the earlier tracks, which only adds to the brilliance here. Last up, ‘Slide’ applies a shoutier vocal to a stomping rhythm, and with a tinge of ’77 punk, there are more influences from The Real Kids, and even a faint air of the likes of UK Subs. Obviously, The Uppers take everything in their stride, clearly relishing the uptempo riffs and a shameless “na na na” hook. Whether you’re a fan or a new listener, there’s definitely something here with a massive appeal.

If you bought The Uppers’ debut in 2020, you’ll know you want this. If you missed that and love good, old school garage rock/punk with a heavy accent on trebly guitars and crashy rhythms, then you owe it to yourself not to miss The Uppers this second time around. Tried and tested as the influences and sounds often are, ‘Manic Melodies’ amounts to ten minutes of spiky fun that’s about as good as anything the garage punk genre has served up in the previous decade. Grab it now – you certainly won’t regret it.

September 2023