Kicked Out, Then You Kick Out the Jams
Upset is a new band fronted by Ali Koehler, former drummer of both Vivian Girls and Best Coast. She’s Gone is the band’s debut album, twelve tracks of straightforward no-frills garage pop punk. In a recent A.V. Club piece Marah Eakin describes the band as “equal parts That Dog and Veruca Salt” and yet this barely scratches the surface. Sure, those are two of the more well-known female bands of the ‘90s who dished out a raw, careless rock message of (intended?) female empowerment, but there is so much more to the story.
The fact that both acts were major label shouldn’t necessarily de-legitimize their message, but they weren’t the true torch carriers of the strong female DIY scene. They were perhaps a more palatable commercial version. This is not to say that Upset is particularly “feminist” in their message, à la Bikini Kill or L7 (or Huggy Bear, Bratmobile, etc.), but Upset’s grab-a-guitar-and-bang-out-some-chords simplicity owes so much more to the underground. This is arguably how MOST bands start, as it should be. “Feminist” is a label, but a strong woman is definitely one who speaks her mind.
Much of the impetus of this whole project could safely be attributed to the dismissal of Koehler from Best Coast, where she seemed happy. In an interview with MTV Hive she expressed, “I didn’t really know what I wanted out of life after getting kicked out of Best Coast, the rug was kind of pulled out from under my feet.” Turning rejection and heartbreak into art has always been “a thing,” and this could not be a better example. Koehler’s songs reference relationships and the whole gamut of emotions from bitter frustration to dim hope, not to mention high school itself. There is no apparent attempt to pander to any particular scene or sensibility, the music even less refined than Best Coast themselves, which is not saying much.
But this is “punk” in its truest form: a pure voice in simple forms, message before arrangement, words before music. It may not thrill you, but the sincerity is undeniable.