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is a pop sensation
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Does the problem seem to get worse as the level of gas decreases? I had symptoms very similar to yours when my fuel pump failed the second time. The revs would climb and hold steady without the trans upshifting. As the pump degraded, the rpm this occurred at decreased and when it got down to 4-5k rpm it was accompanied by bucking and miss-firing. What it came down to on my car was that the pump could not deliver enough fuel to allow the engine to rev all the way to the shift point at full throttle. Letting off the gas lowered the shift point and the allowed the trans to shift to 2nd.

If you haven't replaced your fuel filter recently, I'd try that first. If that's not the problem, then look toward the fuel pump.
 
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