Big Ups Before a Million Universes

[Exploding in Sound/Tough Love; 2016]

Styles: post-hardcore, post-rock
Others: Slint, Fugazi, Trust Fall

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. The band leaped with a biting intensity, oscillating between a dark, syllabic monotone and singer Joe Galarraga’s thundering scream, as the four pummeled their way through a heavy crowd and the bar’s sparse, antique furniture.

Back with their sophomore effort, Before a Million Universes is a thick 13-track composite of dense chaos, seedy bass groves, and tight, lightning-quick immediacy. Long at work refining a sound indebted to the notes of their obvious heroes, the band here leans in even more heavily in these sorts of deadpan spats of syllabic spoken word and menacing, trophic guitar powerviolence that all seem to add up to one influence: Slint.

In fact, Slint’s seminal Spiderland feels even greater in importance this time around, with the album packed with the endless hushed vocals and modal melancholia that have come to define Slint’s brief career. It’s a weird, melancholy vibe that’s astoundingly rare in bands today, but Big Ups has it. It’s there on the jagged, angular guitars on “Posture,” the modal melodies of “Feathers of Yes,” the low-end downtempo slink of “Meet Where We Are.” The album thrives on this sort of hazy modal malaise, a family of sounds from Spiderland with a few later Red Medicine/Argument-era Fugazi sounds peppered in for good measure.

While this doesn’t exactly add up to any profound reinvention of genre, Before a Million Universes thrives best without thinking. A hazy post-hardcore headspace, the album stitches together a soupy cocktail into something dope, an eternal pull between tense powerchords and lazy malaise that feels good, regardless of pinpointing every influence. Even lyrically, it’s an album that never asks too much of listeners, offering snaky melodies and pulling close every idea in ways you’re of course familiar with. For all the chords we recognize, all the supposed progress we make with every “progressive” release, nothing comes close to that tender impact of a band locked in mathematical precision, knobs turned to 11, guttural chaos echoing intent with every bellowing breakdown. Before a Million Universes is a powerful ode to a sound far from warn out, a redemptive revival still far from redundancy.

Links: Big Ups - Exploding in Sound/Tough Love

Most Read