Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: Exploding In Sound
Review Summary: A stylistic marriage borne from love, not convenience.Imagine for a moment that Big Ups’ debut album Eighteen Hours of Static was a volatile teenager with a penchant for violent fits and outbursts. Further still, imagine that he finally plucked up the courage to go and talk to that quirky interesting girl he’d be admiring from afar for so long - Spiderland. To the surprise of many, Eighteen Hours of Static and Spiderland hit it off immediately.
A nervy, fractured blast of millennial unease, Before a Million Universes, the sophomore studio long player from the Big Apple-based punk/post-hardcore quartet, is as fiery as it is laconic, invoking names like Fugazi, Gallows, the Pixies, and even, to a lesser extent, early Pavement. Big Ups' 2013 debut, the seething Eighteen Hours of Static, offered up a vital, yet familiar sounding amalgam of early-'80s socio-political punk and elliptic, early-'90s lo-fi American underground indie rock. Before a Million Universes does much of the same, but with a more progressive bent.
Brooklyn quartet Big Ups have been referred as a post-hardcore band, an umbrella term meant to tell us that that they blend the pummel of straight-up hardcore with tension and seemingly bucolic moments. While this was a fair description of their discordant and vicious 2014 debut, Eighteen Hours of Static, each note feeling like it was being forced ruthlessly into the mosh pit typical at most Big Ups shows, it is even more accurate for their sophomore record Before a Million Universes. While these lapses into chaos are still very much present, Big Ups place a greater emphasis on quiet moments, on gradual buildups, which of course then allow the instrumental fits of Brendan Finn (drums), Amar Lal (guitar), and Carlos Salguero (bass) to feel even more explosive by contrast.
Dynamics, man. They matter. What Nirvana understood better than most of the scuzzy rock bands they came up with was the need for a song to shift on its axis — to simmer, boil, and then explode. They even wrote a song about it, complete with a lyrical pull quote (“Neither side is sacred”) that rationalizes the whole “soft/loud” dynamic within a semi-religious context.
There’s an ugly fatalism that keeps broken windows intact and unfixed in Big Ups’ sophomore record Before a Million Universes. The band, at least in the darkly-lit covers of the album, have no master plan to rule the state. Their outer rebellion isn’t the stuff of traumatic bullying incidents, but the product of society. It’s a big term, and in the wrong hands, the “s” word can feel meaningless, like one doesn’t get it even after an album full of protest anthems.
On a sticky July night somewhere in the midst of some record mid-Atlantic heat, I found myself front and center at a Big Ups show. Ditching our summer jobs for a night in good company, a friend and I drove up from DC to Baltimore to see the band in the wake of their first, frankly great record, Eighteen Hours of Static. The album, which found the band pooling sounds from hardcore acts like Minor Threat and Fugazi with the artier No Wave nihilism of everyone from DNA to Swans, was a brilliant reclamation of a four-piece ensemble, equal parts melody and menace in thundering, cadential chaos.
They call it experimental post-punk for a reason, right? Or at least thatâ€™s what Big Ups have created on their follow up to 2014â€™s excellent Eighteen Hours of Static. Before a Million Universes was never going to be a photocopy of that, but keeps most of its best ideas: Weird time signatures, arguably the crunchiest bass lines in punk right now, and, of course, Joe Galarragaâ€™s jaded monotonous vocals that turn into guttural screams.And thatâ€™s exactly how the album opens: an aural Big Ups assault. Galarraga sing-talks his way through the verses only to absolutely explode in the hooks.
New Yorkers Big Ups, delivered one of the sleeper hits of 2014 ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’, although if it hit you, you certainly weren’t sleeping. It was a freight train inferno of an album punching out of the darkness and obliterating anything in its path. Marrying a pithy turn of phrase with a relentless fury, the album managed to build eloquent structures of argument and then burn them down with a charismatic “what does it matter anyway?” The schizophrenic internal monologue of Joe Galarraga certainly hasn’t quietened, swinging violently between his contemplative spoken musings and vicious roars, with only injections of noise to separate the two.
Taking its name from a famous Walt Whitman quote, Before a Million Universes is a record built around a deft dichotomy of Fugazi-esque intricacy and unrelenting hardcore aggression. A follow-up to 2014’s 18 Hours of Static, it not only picks up where that album left off, but expands on its already far-from-rudimentary foundations. As a result, its a record far more three-dimensional than its predecessor, channelling at least some of the aggression in to introspective pools of rancorous discontent.
It's that time again when writers Juan and Carl go through their previous month's custom playlists in search of a handful of albums that deserve your attention. After being a bit tough with some of last month's notable electronic offerings, it's curious to see that Juan's two highest scores out of ….