It is often said that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. But sometimes it goes the other way, and you don’t know what you’ve been missing until you finally get it. Certain bands strike a chord because they fill a void that the fan hadn’t even realized was there. Whether it be in the form of Fleet Foxes’ ethereal harmonies, Cut Copy’s intense synth-pop, or the Adam-Duritz-on-spin-cycle vocals of Frightened Rabbit, sometimes a band will just feel immediately, intimately familiar. The same sensation can be felt when hearing San Francisco band The New Up — the scratching of an itch you didn’t even know you had.
On their new five song EP, Broken Machine — the first in a series of three EPs by the band set for release over the next year — The New Up bring their moody dance-rock to a boil and keep it there. From the first moments of lead track “Ginger Tea”, the EP oozes smoky atmosphere, as if Metric and My Bloody Valentine had collaborated on the soundtrack to a David Lynch film.
Crunchy bass, astral guitar, and even the flute are all indispensable tools in the band’s arsenal. But as soon as singer ES Pitcher begins to flex her vocal cords, it is obvious where the band’s greatest strength lies. Sounding like the twin sister of former Denali vocalist Maura Davis — particularly on the EP’s emotionally-charged title track — and supplying every bit of the sultry, soaring delivery that the comparison implies, Pitcher’s voice is a revelation.
After beginning to sag under the weight of their own dreamy aesthetic, the band shifts into high gear for the EP’s last two songs. “Libations” places more emphasis on melody as guitarist Noah Reid joins Pitcher at the mic, and the effect is catchy and bewitching. But the disc’s crown jewel is final track “Just Because”, which finds Pitcher purring, “Just because you’re not looking, it doesn’t mean that I’m not here / And just because the pain has subsided, doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear,” before the two-note guitar minimalism explodes into a vortex of rock and roll catharsis.
Over the course of Broken Marchine‘s five songs, The New Up explore the similarities to be found in opposites, and weave them together into a strangely cohesive whole. Relaxed but rocking, dark but poppy, tempestuous but delicate, moody but playful, the band maintains a careful balance, avoiding tactical errors that turn lesser bands like Evanescence into accidental camp rock. Broken Machine isn’t revolutionary or groundbreaking music. But it is refreshingly solid, irony-free rock and roll that deftly scratches the itch you never even knew you had.