High Up’s Orenda Fink says of the latter: “’Your System Failed You’ is a song for anyone who is working a full-time job, sits down to do their budget and realizes that it’s not enough money to pay for a tiny, shitty apartment, bus fare and their groceries. Forget about health care. Forget about student loan payments. Forget about a vacation. Forget about saving for retirement. Our system has failed us!”
High Up singer, Christine Fink, moved to Omaha to be with her sister, notable singer songwriter, Orenda Fink (Azure Ray) in 2012. Down South in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Christine had been known to frequent and perform at the local karaoke bars. The first time Orenda saw Christine sing at Sheffield’s Old Town Tavern her “jaw dropped as she watched her sister bring the house down”.
After a few years in Omaha, Orenda noticed that Christine “brought the house down no matter where she was singing karaoke” with all and sundry lining up to buy her drinks and make requests to sing their favourite songs.
Christine, however, “was depressed, feeling aimless, shuffling between minimum wage jobs”, daresay the inspiration for the aforementioned “Your System Failed You”, and “the thrill of the weekend performances wore off quickly”.
One night, the sisters began to crack a plan, and Orenda insisted that Christine pursue her happiness and perform onstage. They then formed High Up, a collaboration “mixing elements of punk and soul that showcased Christine’s powerful vocals and Orenda’s seasoned songwriting”.
The project draws from a variety of influences, like Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke, Dead Kennedys, Screaming Jay Hawkins and Velvet Underground. It “blends the genres to create a frenetic live show and sound that is at once classic and fresh”.
Waiting “Two Weeks” kicks things off, and’s resplendent with horn triumphant, climbing bass and grooving, soulful guitar. The whole thing seems to come across as some sort of hybrid of The Who and The Jam. The latter’s The Gift era, particularly. The vocals have got punch, soulful, ballsy and with rocking fervour. It goes into hammering crescendo before ending abruptly.
The demanding “You Can’t Give Up On Me” is a more thoughtful, slow and ponderous track. It has a wistful, sorrowful swing to it. Lines like “…and when I smile, sometimes, sometimes I’m crying inside” really detail the strife in this woman’s life. Heavy flourishes of guitar and drum change up the soulful dynamic into a more rocking one. Organ whizzing weaves its tearful emotive power.
Then you’re frankly told “Your System Failed You”. Considering the nature of the track, that of working your fingers to the bone and still being skint, things sound quite triumphant in a way. “How long, how long/Can this keep going on” conveying, perhaps, burning the candle at both ends in order to lead such a meagre lifestyle.
Then “…and my pleasures, oh, they are so few/So if you’re still against raising minimum wage, then f*ck you” encapsulates the whole thing in its entirety.
The grass is greener come the end in “Trees Keep Growing”, which kicks in mighty, with syncopated flourishes of guitar in tandem with drum. “I never expected you” like a proclamation declaring surprise, those very flourishes conveying the sudden realisation of surprise. This continues throughout the track, perhaps in a state of constant surprise and bewilderment?
The EP peaks particularly with tracks “Two Weeks” and “Trees Keep Growing”. These start and end the project, opening and closing with a bang. This is basically tracks that are more than good, sandwiched between two more than memorable. A half of four return isn’t a bad summation of the EP overall.
It’s the height of flattery to say “Two Weeks” sounds like some sort of hybrid of The Who and The Jam. New wave, punky with soulful, funky aspects thrown into the mix. It goes into hammering crescendo before ending abruptly. This crescendo links well with the heavy flourishes of guitar and drum in “You Can’t Give Up On Me”.
Simplicity is the key in “Trees Keep Growing”. Syncopated flourishes of guitar in tandem with drum cleverly indicate surprise, enforced with the lyric of “I never expected you” and that feeling of sudden realisation during said surprise. This continues throughout the track, best conveying a constant state of surprise and bewilderment. Clever and expertly done.
High Up are a fine melding of soul and rock, the vocals, in turn, a good combination of sensitivity, guts and balls. A hell of a range, something you might liken to a female Glenn Hughes, perhaps. In other words, something that might be lost on straight ahead rock music. There’s nothing generic about this offering, though. High Up’s High Up EP can be purchased, here.
Words by Andrew Watson