Review: Choke Up, ‘Black Coffee, Bad Habits’

Posted 3 years ago by Joel Funk

Written By: Joel Funk Edited By: Caitlin Kohn

I first heard the name Choke Up at the Somos record release show for Temple Of Plenty. They played with the likes Off and On, Grandview, Somos, and The Hotelier. I was not blown away by the live set, and I prematurely wrote them off as a local band that would always be a local band. Every other band (with the exception of Off & On) released a record that blew me away in the last year and had an incredible live show to boot. Choke Up had the energy, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

For whatever reason, I still managed to find my way to their BandCamp and listen to ‘Pilot Passenger / Joaquin Murietta’ and found myself only feeling the acoustic versions of both “Pilot” and “Passenger.” I’m going to chalk that up to production. I was actually having this conversation with a buddy of mine the other day. It should be considered a crime to release poorly produced music that undersells your band. Because with the release of Choke Up’s debut album ‘Black Coffee, Bad Habits’ I have not only grown to appreciate this band, I have grown to love them.

Everything just seems to have worked out for Choke Up this time around. The songwriting is leagues above where it was before, and perhaps more importantly, the production is much better. This doesn’t sound like the same band that I saw a year ago. They want you to listen, and they make a pretty compelling argument in their favor. This record is packed with the same energy their live show incorporates from start to finish, and it’s incredible to see this band finally come into their own.

On my first listen through, I went out of my way to let them know that I wasn’t ready for this record to be so good. The album comes to a start with “Wildflower,” which starts us off with a riff that will always remind me of The Postal Service. The vocal dynamic is one of the reasons I love this record. You have a pretty consistent exchange between clean and harsh vocals, and they’re both so compelling to listen to.

And before you even have a chance to doubt that Choke Up can write a hook, you’re listening to “My Oh My” which wastes no time picking up on the energy that “Wildflower” came to a close with. That blistering “My oh my/Oh/I don’t feel myself today” may seem mind-bogglingly simple on paper, but when you actually get the chance to hear it; oh boy. You’ll find yourself effortlessly singing along, and I’ve been caught doing just that while putting away freight at work.

Earlier, I touched on how much I liked the acoustic tracks on ‘Pilot Passenger…’ and I’m even more moved by the tracks that are featured on ‘Black Coffee, Bad Habits.’ These songs will tug at your heart strings and show just how well rounded Choke Up are as musicians. Do they have to rely on these huge, explosive tracks to keep your attention? No, but burying these gems in a sea of those tracks makes them even more special.

Choke Up has made me a believer with ‘Black Coffee, Bad Habits.’ From start to finish, this record will make sure you’re paying attention. This band has known what they were doing from the beginning, and I guess it was only a matter of time before they truly came into their own. I’m glad to have been here for a brief portion of that ride, and I cannot wait to watch this band continue to grow. 5/5