The first thing to mention when discussing ‘credibility’ in music - if there is even such a thing - is how seriously a band takes themselves. Big Ups are not a band who take themselves seriously (glance over their Twitter account if you need evidence). This frivolity is a cornerstone of hardcore music but not in the crass, Viva La Bam way, but rather the ability to cut ties with pretension and just set all outputs to purge mode - no bars held.
This is exactly what drew the spotlight onto Big Ups’ wrought and surprise attack of a debut, ’18 Hours Of Static’. An album which stirred this writer’s gut to the degree that only Refused’s ‘Shape Of Punk To Come’ can still do. However, on the Brooklyn quartet’s return, ‘Before A Million Universes’ does little to rekindle the essence of hardcore as it does reference its lineage aggressively.
Callbacks to Slint’s 1991 harrowing odyssey of a record, ‘Spiderland', are rife. In the slower, hollower moments of Big Ups’ tracks, lead singer Joe Galarraga’s monotone East Coast drawl is primary colour in use. While Slint used expanding pauses and blunt effects in their mixes to cultivate a feeling of emptiness, ‘Before A Million Universes’ fails to capture the same ever-expanding lurch with their own nihilistic renditions like on the stalker-anthem ‘So Much You’.
The production predominantly ranges from the feeling of pressed up against the rail at a grotty backroom show, ribs darkening, to vicariously experiencing the record as a disgruntled neighbour as distorted yowls and crunchy riffs bleed through the plaster-walls stifled. ‘Feathers of Yes’, however, showcases Big Ups’ knowing ferocity without artifice, with its rusty skate-punk reprises that are flanked by car-crash breakdowns. It begins a chain of a frequent loud-to-quiet dynamic manoeuvres that Big Ups rely on heavily.
Take ‘Meet Where We Are’, where two-thirds of the song follow this windy, post-rock lull before the track crescendos into a hailstorm barrage of noise-rock so sharp you can hear the slithers of nickel cut from the bass strings. It throttles to the extent that lead singer Joe G can’t even project over it, it feels urgent; legitimately desperate.
But genuine intensity cannot be replicated at whim. Especially since the same trick is repeated without respite on ‘Negative (Intro)’ backed with ‘Negative’. Big Ups have never been a band to pull punches when it the flurry of the moment, but they can’t fool their audience twice without someone calling them on it.
‘Before A Million Universes’ is a tooth-and-nail attempt at the remarkable that head-butts through expectations but cowers in the presence of limitless creativity. On occasions it’s a disappointing walk through ‘hardcore by numbers’ routines peppered in clever imagery and breakneck instrumentation. However, for Big Ups, a band patently above mediocrity, a painful irony hinders them. That their album, whose namesake references the infinite enormity of the astral realm, would come up so consistently limited.
Words: Will Butler
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