Cuffed Up Stand Tall on All You Got

The LA band’s energetic debut album arrives as fiery as it does joyous and is equal parts hopeful and fierce.

Music Reviews Cuffed Up
Cuffed Up Stand Tall on All You Got

For Los Angeles post-punk trio Cuffed Up, their debut album All You Got is a physical manifestation of years of grit, passion and whole-hearted self-determination. First formed by Ralph Torrefranca and Joe Liptock in 2018—following a stint together in a Death Cab for Cutie cover band—and later rounded out by Christina Apostolopoulos in 2022, the group has become known for their distinct brand of catchy, spirited rock music. But despite generating buzz with their 2020 self-titled EP and 2021 follow-up Asymmetry, the band’s initial foray into the music industry was met with countless rejections.

“It felt like the world was pretty much counting us out,” Torrefranca said in a press release. “And we were like, ‘Well, do we join the increasingly large graveyard of bands that were never able to make it, or do we keep going?’ Then a fire got lit, and we said, ‘We don’t need anyone else. We’re going to do this ourselves.’” In many ways, that DIY underdog mentality is the life source of the album. Its title-track is an explosive, self-motivational anthem—perfectly encapsulating the project’s ethos, as the group tallies off all the obstacles standing in their way before shooting each down with the repeated, chin-up challenge, “Is that all you got?” It’s both a sonic representation of the chip the band carries on its shoulder and a raised eyebrow at all the naysayers that have counted them out.

If there’s one thing Cuffed Up have a true knack for, it’s big, anthemic choruses. On riotous album opener “Finer Things,” the trio sets the tempo for the rest of the album with a track that plays out like a rollicking, high-energy thunderstroke. Set against the backdrop of a frenzied guitar riff and blood-pumping bassline, “Finer Things”—a reminiscent chronicle of the rapturous early days of Torrefranca’s relationship with his now-wife—sees the band toast to the good life with a song that doubles as one of the album’s most compelling moments. Driven by Torrefranca’s emphatic vocals and the sheer force of a monster hook (“Take my heart and lead to my soul / If this is a dream then I’m gonna fade away”), it’s a gripping track that feels made for big festival stages.

Much like genre forebears before them, Cuffed Up’s fiery, high-energy sound is fueled by conscious songwriting. An album thematically driven by the highs and lows of the modern human experience, the band takes aim at everyone from dot com billionaires to haters on the internet with biting, razor-sharp lyricism. “Small Fry,” a snarling headbanger (which bears the same name as Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ devastatingly poignant 2018 memoir detailing her relationship with estranged father Steve Jobs), is a condemnation of society’s elite power structure. Blending hard-knock drums with jagged lyrical barbs (“Master of a power play / You should put it on your resume”), it’s a compelling counterargument to the rosy optimism that defined the 2010s tech boom. The band echo that theme on “Mock Dance,” a moody, grunge-heavy anthem that turns its skeptical eye to the dull existence (“Scrolling down just to feel enough / Isolated by the public but you think you’re tough”), and sheer lack of originality (“But you’re spoon-fed like a toddler / And you just wanna know how to feel / Don’t ya?”) of online trolls.

But while the band offer themselves up as a ready mouthpiece for modern societal dissonance, their brand of rage is topped off with a refreshing layer of optimism. Album standout “Love Is…” sees Apostolopoulos harmonizes with Torrefranca for a shimmering, glittery ode to the eternal nature of true love. One of the project’s poppier tracks, Apostolopoulos charms with heart-eyed declarations (“Fear of caring / Love is scary / But I still want to do nice things for you’) and vulnerable affirmations (“Don’t know how I feel / Only know it’s real”), culminating in an irresistible track that leaves you wanting for nothing (other than to see her get to take the lead vocal reins more often in the future).

This daring hopefulness also shines through on “Little Wins.” With a tapestry of insistent drums and moody guitar riffs, the band combat stifling emotional stagnancy with a Zen-like attitude that calls for celebrating life’s small joys (“There’s no mistake that I’m going nowhere, slowly / I second the little wins”). It’s a theme that’s also on display on “Hello, Dear Passion,” another of the album’s high points, which Torrefranca calls the spiritual sibling to the title-track. Driven by Torrefranca’s vehement vocals, the song is a bonafide cathartic release that sees the band acting as a hype man for creatives everywhere (“They’ll beat you over and over and over / But we hang on for dear life, my friend / We hang on for dear passion”).

All You Got is a full-length debut packed with highlights from an exciting new group at the forefront of Los Angeles’ rock scene. Equal parts hopeful and fierce, it’s an impassioned war cry that bursts at the seams with giant potential and offering vivid glimpses of the big sound Cuffed Up will surely grow into even more with passing time. “I really don’t even see it as a debut record,” Torrefranca said. “I see it as a snapshot of the beginning of what we’re able to put together, which is really exciting.”

Elizabeth Braaten is a writer from Houston, Texas.

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