Review Summary: Spinning eight years of pain into something beautiful
Sometimes, life deals you situations that must be met head on. For Megan Wyler, who released her debut album Through the Noise
in 2013, it was unexpected medical issues with her newborn son. Understandably, Wyler made him her sole focus and priority, placing her musical career on the back burner for the better part of eight years. As with most trials that we endure though, Wyler came out the other side a stronger woman, and arguably even a better musician. The result is a luscious, moving piece that not only touches on the hardships Megan faced in her own living room, but also various aspects of the human condition. As Megan put it, "I am expanding/digging, coming to terms with untimely death, experiencing deepest love, emerging from heartbreak, lighting the fire of resistance, celebrating female solidarity, passion, fury, the cosmos. Lighthearted stuff like that."
is all too appropriate of a title for her sophomore record. Not only is it a reference to how Wyler's demanding home life turned her career upside down, but it's also a refusal to dwell in the past. Wyler's insistence on living in the moment, as imperfect and twisted as it may be, serves as the album's lifeblood. Upside Now
has a unique sense of urgency to it that isn't typically found in stripped down indie-folk, which can be attributed to everything Wyler and her child have endured over almost the last decade. Our personal lives inform music, whether you're the creator or the listener. Here, the rich textures and sweeping melodies illustrate a woman of quiet resolve; someone who's better equipped to sing about the storm because she lived through it herself.
Megan's angelic voice carries Upside Now
, each layered harmony blowing across the soundscape like a sad breeze. Surrounding her exquisite prose is a nurturing cocoon of elegant strings, classical pianos, and both acoustic and electric guitars. 'The Calling' best illustrates those collective assets, as each eerie piano note echoes like a bruise tied to past trauma; in the meanwhile, drums build slowly to a smooth, glazed-over breakdown. Wyler's willingness to occasionally delve into grittier instrumental moments serves as the ideal complement to Upside Now
's overarching atmosphere, which is mostly a lush and softly glowing series of abstract vignettes. This allows Megan to weave both somber reflection and celebratory triumph into the record's fabric with ease, and when she plays all of her cards at once - as she does on 'The Calling' - she's unstoppable.
This album is not limited to a couple of diamonds in the rough, however. Upside Now
is a consistent rush of aesthetic beauty with underlying emotion. On the opener/title track, Megan sings in stunning fashion "let me feel it your way, let you hear it my way / we can keep our hope" before the song levitates halfway upon an updraft of poignant strings. 'Life is Sparkling' possesses one of the most sincerely breathtaking vocal melodies I've ever heard, and is accompanied by moving chants of "light the way, in the ever after". 'Symphony' is a free-flowing yet depressing ballad which accomplishes just as much through its silence and impactful pauses as it does via ice-tinged pianos and melancholic strings. 'Plenty' and 'Sparrow Song' both see gradual surges in energy until they each conclude in a flurry of warm, memorable refrains. By contrast, 'Starlight' and 'Gravity' each sound like Megan sitting alone on a grassy hill at night, singing to only herself and the moon. Upside Now
is consistently gracious and beautiful; there are no moments where Megan Wyler falters yet there are numerous instances where she shines far brighter than anyone could have expected.
In a recent interview with Voyager LA
, Wyler stated, "My lyrics rarely come out in a linear narrative form. For some reason, the lyrics I write have a more lateral entry point, and the narrative is often more abstract." While this is true across the majority of Upside Now
, featuring gorgeously ambiguous poetry like "now the stars have lost their way", the experience isn't totally devoid of direct references to the pain that berthed Upside Now
in the first place. The jaw-dropping closer 'Wake Up' is one such moment - and it's a profound statement of resolution: "there's nothing stopping me to flight / and in the night, it all starts again." On the heels of an eight year absence, with her son's health finally on the mend, it comes across like the uplifting mission statement that Upside Now
needed - a note of eternal optimism to end things on. As this record comes full circle, so does Megan Wyler's personal life and professional career: Upside Now
is an absolutely triumphant return, and one that should give all of us hope.