Upsetting: “We’re still a bummer band.” Courtesy of All Hallows Productions

“We’re still a bummer band,” said Charlie Debolt, drummer of area punk band Upsetting. This was early into a brief Zoom call between me and him and his bandmates — guitarist/vocalist Caleb Lewis, bassist/vocalist Kevin Adkins, and lead guitarist Drew Kee — and he was talking about how their new album, Like Fire, Spreading Fast, is the more energetic counterpart to A Cold, Lonely Place, the album Upsetting released in August 2021. It was almost like he was preemptively apologizing for Upsetting’s knack for crafting hooky songs, but the point he was making had to do with the dichotomy of feelings and their physical manifestations.

“You can be depressed but still be a vibrant person, and the new [album] has that theme, I think,” he said.

Upsetting (originally named Teenage Sexx when Adkins, Debolt, and Lewis formed the band in 2013) has always been something of a confessional booth for its members, who inject gallons of simmering angst, frustration, self-loathing, and bleak humor into pop-punk packaging, like a can of Dr Pepper left on a patio table in the sun then shaken until it bursts. That dynamic, of bottled emotions finally agitated to the point of explosion, is on full display here, rendered in blasts of distortion, fuzz, and grumbling, overdriven bass, spraying the listener in sticky hooks and anthemic choruses.

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Like Fire, recorded over a handful of sessions this year in Denton with Michael Briggs at Civil Audio, dropped last Friday on Spotify and Bandcamp, more or less out of the blue — if not for an Instagram story posted a few days before, I might not have heard about it at all. Most bands spend months hyping a new recording’s progress leading up to its release date, but Upsetting did not follow this breathless, spammy, content-for-sake-of-content promotional strategy, largely because all of its members have lots of other shit going on, both musically and otherwise. And, in fact, the band won’t even have a proper album release until Aug 17, when all four members are available to play a show.

For all the heat Upsetting packs into their songs, they’re still as low-key as ever. As an observer, I think that speaks to the band’s aesthetic anyway, one in which you write songs and stomp on Rat pedals because that’s cheaper and more enjoyable than therapy. And as a listener, hearing four dudes sing about sources of personal malaise such as feeling unseen or failing to communicate with people because of one’s own awkwardness is also cheaper and more enjoyable than therapy. So however far under the radar Upsetting might fly, I am lucky to catch them when they swoop within earshot. Upsetting excels in crystallizing that feeling like your fuse has smoldered almost to its end, and if that’s something you can relate to, Like Fire, Spreading Fast will make you feel good about burning out. — Steve Steward


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