Exceptional harmonies and insightful lyrics come together to make a vibrant collection of songs.
In the three years since their previous release, Upstate has been through quite a myriad of life events: there has been the joy of marriages and babies – and even some “spiritual awakenings” – along with the darkness of mourning and funerals. If you think these markers of our existence sound like they would make a fine basis for an album, you would be right.
“When you’re grinning like a bandit / And your eyes are stolen jewels / I think perhaps I’ll love you once again / But that kind of thinking’s foolish / And this life won’t suffer fools / And a lover’s not so precious as a friend,” Mary Webster imparts on the opener ‘Lovers and Friends’, her voice beautifully blended with fellow vocalist Melanie Glenn’s. The emotive and sweet vocal harmonies that give a feeling of Laurel Canyon haze are a theme throughout, but they’re perhaps best represented on ‘Sally’, a song band member Dylan McKinstry wrote about the complex realities of love.
‘Catalpa’ is ostensibly a simple song McKinstry wrote about his fascination with the species of tree in question, but when lyrics like “There’s no rewind on time / Only a memory, fading into history / The remnants of a fallen tree” hit, it suddenly becomes so much more than that. With a strong bass and clarinet, the jazz infused ‘Auntie’ – all about the sage advice McKinstry earned from his opera singing aunt on how to protect his voice – stands a bit apart from the other tracks musically, but a familiar and grounding homespun wisdom remains.
Born from a daydream, ‘Patty’s Diner’ is one of the only tracks with lyrics not drawn from a lived situation, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful as our narrator Holly grieves for the deceased titular Patty; perhaps the hardest blow of all coming from the lines: “And I couldn’t understand / Why she would keep on making plans / She’d say ‘Holly what else am I supposed to do?’”. The bluesy yet jaunty and piano heavy ‘I’ll Come Around’ will strike a chord with anyone familiar with executive dysfunction, while ‘WYDFL’ (that’s “what you do for love”), written by band member Harry D’Agostino, explores putting the work into a relationship, even when the timing seems all wrong (“Hunny, there’s no virtue in following your heart / What you did for love was easy / It’s what you’ll do in spite that’s hard”).
Instead of focusing on the sometimes narrow view of romantic love, ‘Everything Changes’ looks at the other kinds of love in our lives, the words about childhood friendship giving an unexpected gut punch of reality: “You moved ages ago / Further west than Buffalo / Further than I could throw / Might as well be Mexico / You used to live next door / I barely know you anymore,” admits Glenn with stark realisation.
With harmonies as tight as the ones Upstate display, it would be easy to overlook the fact that actually, they’re no slouch in the lyric department either. Fuelled by life experiences, their words impart the kind of insight that can only be earned through a life lived, and exceptional harmonies or not, making art out of the everyday is maybe the most remarkable thing of all.