Home Read Albums Of The Week: Upright Forms | Blurred Wires

Albums Of The Week: Upright Forms | Blurred Wires

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “I love anthemic, tug-at-your-heartstrings kind of music. I really do. And I think these guys do too…”

That’s Nick Sakes speaking on a joint Zoom with bassist Noah Paster and drummer Shaun Westphal, his bandmates in Upright Forms, about their debut album Blurred Wires. If you’ve followed Sakes’ output during the past 30-plus years — three LPs and various EPs, singles and compilation appearances, spanning four different bands — his statement might surprise you. This is, after all, the same man who spent most of the ’90s howling over the surgically precise prog-punk of Dazzling Killmen and later the unhinged avant-rock of Colossamite, and then returned to the label in the 2010s as half of the ferocious, No Wave–inspired duo Xaddax.

But a penchant for the belligerent and/or bizarre is only part of Sakes’ musical DNA, as he revealed in Sicbay, a Minneapolis trio that released three albums’ worth of tuneful yet appealingly bent indie rock from 2001 through 2005. Blurred Wires picks up on that thread, joining it together with strands from Sakes’ diverse musical past, and adding in Paster’s highly developed songwriting smarts and Westphal’s nimble but rock-solid drumming. The result feels like a summation of Sakes’ musical life to date: 10 compact songs that balance sturdy hooks and graceful dynamics with the potent tension, dissonance and overall oddity that mark much of his back catalog.

Consider They Kept On Living, a song that first appeared in an earlier version on the 2022 Skin Graft Halloween comp Sounds To Make You Shudder! It starts off with a grinding 7/4 groove, as Sakes spits out cryptic lines over scratchy noise-punk chords. After a brief build, the band explodes into a massive chorus, with Sakes shouting the title line against a fist-pumping riff. The trio sound equally convincing digging into the pummeling aggression of My Lower Self, where Sakes’ vocals start off as a feral snarl and then soar triumphantly during the chorus, or the soothing indie-pop hush of the second half of the Paster-penned Drive At Night.

Various “tug-at-your-heartstrings” touchstones informed Long Shadow, from Superdrag on Paster’s side to Guided By Voices on Sakes’, adding up to one of the record’s most tastefully dynamic tracks. Chopped Even, meanwhile, makes room for urgent hooks within pure, chaotic energy. Sakes channeled Television Personalities, cult heroes of melodic British post-punk, on Animositine, which he accurately labels “our prettiest song.”

Nearly 35 years into his career, Sakes is finding new ways to challenge himself — and in Paster and Westphal, he’s found two musicians who are equally comfortable with both the thorniest and the loveliest manifestations of underground rock. When they reflect on their chemistry, they agree that their openness to collaboration is, as Sakes puts it, “one of our superpowers.” On Blurred Wires, that superpower yields dynamic, challenging, profoundly memorable results, while leaving ample room for future growth.”