Issue #33: The Upside Of Down by The Tories

September 12, 2016

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The Upside Of Down by The Tories
Released In January 24, 2001
Released By 02 Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Andrew Cothern

I was first introduced to the power pop music of The Tories in 1999 when I saw them perform on a late night entertainment show hosted by Matt Pinfield. From the opening sounds of “Would You Notice,” a wonderful anthem of the possibility of unrequited love, I knew there was something to this group.

The Tories are one of the best examples of near perfect vocal harmonies that are equally backed up with amazing guitar-driven power pop. “Time For You” (the theme song to the short-lived NBC series Jesse starring Christina Applegate) is a stand-up-and-feel-like-you-can-take-on-the-world song of power. Songs like “Come Unglued” and “Greatest Foe” are full of power before calming things down a bit with “The Upside Of Down” and “Other Side Of Time” — a song that’s so somber and meaningful that I have to stop and listen to the words on every listen.

The Tories perfectly embody the music of the time and every time I listen to them, it brings back memories of this time of my life. The individual members have since moved on to other projects — frontman Steve Bertrand formed a new band called Avion, which I always felt was like the next evolution of the Tories’ sound — but I still have fond memories of listening to this album and will still sing along anytime it plays.

Andrew Cothern (@rvaplaylist)
Beloved & Influential Richmond Chronicler

LA power pop sound with Britpop style & swagger.

Feral Conservatives? The Tories? I feel that these two bands being one week after the other must be pure coincidence, and hopefully isn’t some sort of stitch-up from my American colleagues in this post-Brexit world I live in. British political connotations aside, The Tories always had a tough job this week following Here’s To Almost, but once again I was hit with a real pleasant surprise. The Upside Of Down is an altogether different beast than last week’s album, but since 2000-2005 is one of my favourite periods for indie music, The Tories felt right at home in my music collection. This is a confident, strong record that’s just full of really good songs. Seeing it was co-produced with Stuart Brawley (Foo Fighters, Don Henley, Michael Jackson) made sense because this is a tightly-produced collection of music where no song feels out of place or wasted. My track MVP is most definitely “Come Unglued,” which is just a blisteringly fun blast of indie that wouldn’t feel out of place on most rock playlists. The strength of The Tories second record makes me question why they never really blew up like they should have. This is a band clearly producing great work, but they just never quite managed to cross over into the mainstream before amicably splitting. Despite that, The Upside of Down remains a very good album that holds up really well fifteen years later.

James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist

In the ’90s, I was buried deep in the punk rock subculture, to the point that I would miss a lot of things happening in the music world that were even slightly more mainstream than the DIY bands and labels I was keeping up with. Twee indie-pop and the sort of post-Nirvana alt-rock that I’d loved in my high school and college years were suddenly [ahem] off my radar. It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when downloading came into the picture in a big way and I found myself posting on a high-content, music-related message board with a ton of indie and alt-rock kids, that I started to catch up on all the bands I’d missed while I was being too cool and punk rock for all of them. The Tories would have fit well into my musical palette at the time; no one ever hyped them to me, but 2001’s The Upside Of Down fits right in with albums like Stereophonics’ Word Gets Around, Ours’ Precious, and Pete Yorn’s Musicforthemorningafter, all of which connected for me at the time — as did gems like the Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience and Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut, both of which I’d heard the singles from but never properly delved into. The Upside Of Down has quite a bit in common with all of these releases. Sure, it’s far from punk — the rock n’ roll guitars are missing a good bit of the crunch and bite I’ve always loved, and would ideally like to hear in any alt-rock context. But the songs are melancholy and beautiful, with a knack for hitting flawless chorus melodies and touching on that vaguely depressive streak that has always run through my own personality as well as the music I tend to love the most. “Would You Notice” begins the album with a forlorn, heartfelt plea for attention, and “Time For You” follows it up with an upbeat, energetic presentation that still can’t entirely dissipate the album’s vaguely wistful air. There might definitely be a little more studio polish and production atmosphere on this record than I’d normally want, but when the songs are this memorable, I can certainly handle it. I’d have been a sucker for this record if it’d fallen in my lap back in 2005, but honestly, better late than never.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to more albums by bands full of white dudes while writing for OYR this year, than I did in the last three years combined. It’s not a knock — a lot of these albums have been truly fantastic, just out of my typical wheelhouse. So I also don’t mean it as a slight when I say that The Upside Of Down sounds a bit like a roll call of some of the whitest bands of the early 2000s. Within seconds of opener “Would You Notice” I’m immediately transported to “3 AM” by Matchbox Twenty (I band have an embarrassing amount of fondness for since they were brother’s favorite growing up). The nasally vocals of “Time For You” conjure up any number of pop punk bands, and the opening riff on the title track may have been directly lifted from this and placed into “The Reason” by Hoobastank. (We let that song go to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 #NeverForget). All of this adds up to the music equivalent of a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries: you can put in some effort and find something more specific and satisfying, but sometimes this is just what you want. And it’s pretty damn tasty. P.S. Something about the circus accoutrement on “The End” cause it’s weird and I like it and also — I get to use the word “accoutrement.”

Josh Buck (@altq42)
Devout Pop Music Purist

“Peak TV” is a recent phenomenon which states that there is so much entertaining television being produced that you can’t possibly watch it all. But are we also experiencing “peak music?” Music producing and discovery are both so easy now that there are huge swaths of music we might never know even existed. “Peak music” has changed my musical discovery habits — I’m becoming less patient. If I don’t like something immediately, I move on to the next thing. Had The Tories not been the next Off Your Radar selection, I would have skimmed through the first thirty seconds of each song and then listened to a different record. Nothing was immediately notable to me, but as I read about the band, comparisons to Jellyfish and other power pop favorites kept resurfacing. So I began to pick up on little things in The Upside Of Down, like how it made me warmly nostalgic for radio rock of the mid-’90s, when we all put the same catchy jams on our mix tapes. Furthermore, “Come Unglued” and “Everything Keeps Coming Up You” are slices of power pop perfection. I was pleasantly surprised by something in almost every song, which added up to a pretty well-rounded album. Will I change my listening habits permanently? Probably not, since I have less free time due to all the TV I have to watch.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

The Tories mastermind Steven Bertrand who would later go on to form Avion before embarking on his own solo career.

Last night, in the wonderfully spontaneous kind of conversation that can happen when you talk to someone at a bar on a slow night, knowing you have one or two friends in common and figuring what the hell, I’ll give this person a shot, I found myself defending The Smiths. A year ago, swimming in the relief and shock of ending a terrible relationship, I wrapped myself in Morrissey’s warbles and Marr’s jangles and sang out the shock of suddenly being alone, being free, and came to really understand the impact of this band. After an hour of sifting through punk and hardcore, the free-for-all that is a metal show, and what bands we just love, I had to ask about his flip dismissal of this band. “They’ve never grabbed me,” he exhaled along with a stream of smoke, “but I understand what they’ve done for music.” Listening to The Upside Of Down today, echoes of that conversation played in the background of the tracks. As a whole, this album delivers a pretty solid rock sound set firmly in the early 2000s, with the kind of slightly nasal, plaintive vocals and gently distorted guitar gracing many albums of the time. A lot of what we look for in a pop rock record can be found on this somewhat disjointed album, with power ballads alongside joyful anthems playing out more like a mixtape than a cohesive story, but present nonetheless. As I turned this album over and over, I admit to not connecting as much to this album as I have for other OYR selections, but my awareness of the variety on the album, of how amped and sincere the music is given to us, grew with each repetition. In a sense nostalgic on the first listen, perhaps the greatest strength of the album is its immediate familiarity, the kind of album you could put on a party with friends from all aspects of your life and be secure in getting a few heads nodding and feet tapping from people across the room.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

On the surface, you could look at The Tories and chalk them up as a prototypical rock band holding the torch high for the late nineties into the twenty-first century. After listening to the entirety of The Upside Of Down, there is so much more to unravel. “Everything Keeps Coming Up You” playfully teases it’s bouncy aesthetic with painfully honest lyrics about being reminded of failed romances. “Greatest Foe” takes a Weezer trope and tosses it on its head by circumventing the notion of reliable narration in our day to day experiences. It’s about facing one’s ability to fail to be honest to one’s self. There are a number of fun lyrical moments throughout “Superconductor” and their choice of describing how loneliness can permeate beyond the obvious time spent alone at home to being at a party surrounded by all of your friends and feeling like something is missing. While mentioning Weezer earlier, they seem like a huge band for The Tories. And there are even moments that seem reminiscent of other groups of the time including Motion City Soundtrack, All-American Rejects, and so forth. It’s impressive that the band was able to craft a sound that stood out from several of their peers in the short lifespan the band was around for. Nonetheless, The Upside Of Down is a splendid closing moment for the band.

Shannon Cleary (@thatssocleary)
Musical Explorer Of All Angles

To find the upside of The Upside Of Down, begin at The End. After eight songs of polished Beatlemania, the boys in The Tories finally get the memo that the Fabs left a legacy of experimentation and change. In short, they start to fuck with the formula, adding a touch of goofy Salvation Army horns to a song of despair. Then comes “Other Side Of Time,” which may be the first song influenced by “Free As A Bird” from The Beatles Anthology, Vol. 1. But you know what? The slide guitar is a beautiful tribute to George Harrison and I loved “Free As A Bird,” so kudos to The Tories. “All The World’s For Sale” laces a nice acoustic ditty with some refreshingly tart Lennonesque bitterness and “Change Me” adds some T. Rex bump’n’grind and Cheap Trickery to the mix. The last two songs might also cause the Dream Police to put out an APB but they’re fast and clever enough that The Tories will probably be let off with only a warning. You should also consider yourself warned — the whole album is darn catchy!

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

Fifteen years ago yesterday, I was a month into my freshman year at ODU. On the morning of 9/11 I was woken by a series of phone calls from my dad. Of course, I didn’t get out of bed to answer the first three, but on the fourth consecutive call, I knew something had to be wrong. He told me to turn on the news, and most of you probably have similar stories as the rest of that surreal day unfolded. Looking back, it seems silly to think that some of us had to go about our normal day after watching the horror of that fateful morning. But we did. We had no context. We were in the moment. We didn’t really know what had just happened. So I went to class, but I couldn’t concentrate. Not because I was so emotionally shattered by what I had just seen, but because of what I was about to hear. After class, I raced to the closest music store and bought Jay-Z’s classic The Blueprint, which came out that same morning. And I didn’t even have a second thought about it. That album was so damn good that for about four hours straight, I completely forgot about what happened in New York and DC a few hours earlier. And that’s how powerful music can/should be. Onto The Upside Of Down, a record from the same year of that great record and terrible day. I love it when artists really stick to the album titles/themes they choose. There are no secrets here about The Torries’ motives. They want to tell us that the grass is always greener, and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and all those other brush-yourself-off cliches. Upside is consistently uplifting with tracks like “Time For You” and “Alright Tonight“. Shit, even the sad songs like “Point Of View” have happy choruses. And the Torries leave us with some very meaty production nuggets, like the quick 808 drum break and party noise to accent the “poolside gala” on “Superconductor“. There’s also the album’s standout track “The End,” which features some very tasty horn arrangements reminiscent of your favorite Chicago jams. I think the greatest compliment to this record is that it’s perfect to throw on if you’re having a shitty day… or you’re trying to fight back memories of the single worst terrorist attack ever perpetrated on your country. Either way.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

Live photo from 1998 from this Earthlink fan website that’s surprisingly still up today. If you’re curious, here it is.

The AllMusic review for The Upside Of Down talked about this being an album of singles — the idea was that the tracks work independently of one another rather than together — but I picked up on a thread that seems to be woven throughout: The Beatles. I first got that sense during “Superconductor” — the two-flight walk up melody voiced by the guitar echoes the sax riff from “Lady Madonna.” (As a whole, the track kept making me think of “Day Tripper,” for reasons I can’t nail down.) Then there’s “The End,” which isn’t a cover, but just like the Beatles tune, lives up to its name with a grand conclusion and features languid slide work that makes it sound like George Harrison stopped by the studio that day. It even starts with an out-of-the-blue, Sgt. Pepper-y march. The one I can’t stop thinking about is “All The World’s For Sale.” I can’t decide whether it reminds me more of Harrison’s or John Lennon’s post-Beatles output, but arguing with myself about it while listening to the song has proven to be strangely fun. Maybe it sits in the middle of a Venn diagram in which the two circles represent Harrison’s poised songwriting style and John Lennon’s beautiful, sardonic wisdom. Speaking of Harrison and covers, I wouldn’t mind hearing a 15-minute Nina Simone cover of “All The World’s For Sale.” I close my eyes and can absolutely imagine how she would have sung “Come to find no one’s innocent.”

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

The Upside Of Down stretches across familiar territory, from power pop and rock to hints of Britpop. From my point of view, Steve Bertrand vocals remind me of Stephen Brodsky, especially when they’re layered with backing harmonies in the choruses. “Greatest Foe” could have been recorded by any number of more well-known radio friendly bands. Sugar Ray started off with the same name, but now will have to see if they can use it for the weekend or a one-night stand. Overall, the album really bridges the post-’90s, early ’00s sounds, but was probably just a little late for most people in 2001. Fifteen years later is a perfect time for you check this record out.

PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man

For the most part, The Upside Of Down sticks to the familiar sounds and structures that made early 2000s alternative pop/rock appeal to so many people. Even I have to admit that opener “Would You Notice” is catchy as fuck. And while a lot of the record sticks to the expected, there are some completely unexpected flashes of brilliance that really take the listener by surprise. The first is that stripped back, string quartet-esque pre-chorus on “Come Unglued;” none of the rest of the song sounds even remotely like it, but I’ll take any classical musical influence when I can get it. Then there’s the saloon piano outro that closes “Everything Keeps Coming Up You,” once again out of nowhere, but it’s weird and perfect all the same. And finally, the acoustic guitar, accordion-accented folk pop of “All The World’s For Sale” is a nice diversion to close the album. If you’ve got some nostalgia for this era of music, The Tories can satisfy your cravings with a little extra flare.

David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer

I make a big deal at times about European musicians doing folk better than Americans, but what of Britpop done better than Brits? That’s the feeling I got while listening to this record and it’s a great thought… except this record came out in 2001, a time by which Britpop had already faded and turned into something new for bands like Travis and Elbow to play with. Oh well. The Beatles and Oasis comparisons will still be made, but this record coming out in 2001 is strange. It’s a love letter to ’90s radio rock that came out at the time post-grunge began to painfully dominate. The Tories seem almost indifferent to the changing climate while they stuck to their own melodic and lyrical beliefs in an ultimately futile assertion. Akin to bands like The Churchills and even Jump, Little Children, they seem fervent that though the sound is on a decline, there is still plenty to offer and a record like The Upside Of Down shows just that with songs that are just undeniably good across a multitude of styles. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the charm can’t be overlooked and in the right circumstance, we very well could have had The Tories entering the same canon as bands like Third Eye Blind. Hell, we still could as people romanticize the ’90s more and more with every year. Next time you’re making a mix CD or Spotify playlist, why not sneak “Would You Notice” and check if they’ll notice it’s not from the ’90s? I’d bet not, and I’d also bet The Tories will gain a new fan that day somewhere.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Birthdays by Keaton Henson
Chosen By James Peart

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Josh Buck, Laura Burroughs, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Cothern, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Matt Green, Davy Jones, Matt Klimas, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, James Peart, Jeremy Shatan, & PJ Sykes

Logo By Matt Klimas


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