Before a Million Universes might at times sound like Slint, but Big Ups have their own union and calamity to make their bleakness something of their own.
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. Yet Big Ups, with Slint's Spiderland by their side, bring about a lethargy that's one part removed from the world -- think stalker-like with a dash of cult fantasy -- and another part too close to it.
The brilliance of these motions toward a greater exhaustion is that the New York band isn't carried by one member at a time. Joe Galarraga still speaks like he's ready to crusade with a bunch of Yes Men wanting to change their lives. Those thinking that "Goes Black" from Eighteen Hours of Static rallies crowds will be surprised when they're issued firearms in the form of his words. When Carlos Salguero plays his bass along with Amar Lal's guitaring, the integration becomes something beyond the strumming of notes. These strings become the ironic lifeline to a record that lives its home spiritually dying in the slums. Brendan Finn's drum work camouflages itself so its strikes become faster than they appear as the rusty instrumentation continues its wreck. Though it's easy for Before a Million Universes to fit the roles of hunter and hunted, it stages itself by being as calculated as possible before putting its war paint and entering the jungle.
Galarraga starts the record with contradiction, uttering the words "I can't contain myself" in the tone of someone whose life is completely contained. Because the band as a whole can't contain themselves in their gaping maw of stop-and-start rage, their snaps from calm to hellish need reasons to be convincing. Common ABAB structure which dictates where emotions begin and end are, thankfully, not what the album uses to drive its catharsis. Big Ups know when to pull themselves together when loudness needs to be put to rest, and such a display can be found in the dazed out end of "Feathers of Yes" and the resigned instrumentation of "Meet Where We Are", a track with minor notes that bring about the menace of future grungy tones and rhythms. In these moments where slowness builds up, the band posit themselves as people meticulously taking apart a butterfly.
This butterfly becomes the band's place in society. "Capitalized" has the punk flow necessary to initiate discussions of progress and the elimination of the individual in the workforce -- in short: capitalism destroys. Galarraga's rhythmic choice acts like a conveyor belt that omits words of machine takeover in favor of being symbolic. Though "Negative" can lose its unified nature with its uncharacteristic guitar slide, its talks of apathy and selfishness do a bit better in conveying the track's title. And with each utterance of "Negative" overlaid with a crushing bass, the band take the hopelessness from Eighteen Hours of Static and makes it further lose another shelter. "National Parks" takes its stature from its "We've left her alone", as if we notes a fault made beyond the band's space. The song makes way for a glimmer of hope that is surprising to find from a record that can sound like the heralding of one with too many Thomas Pynchon books by their side and a penchant for shaping fingers in the form of pistols.
There is a love to this record, or at least the hint of possibility that the band aren't stuck in the same depths through and through. Songs like "So Much You" and "Proximity Effect" might make this goodness turn inverse by reflecting on its lyrical and sonic confusion -- implementations of noise and buzzing are too little and too late by the last quarter -- but "Hope for Someone" and "National Parks" glow in major notes and light-filled vocalizing. The person Big Ups create when they step from their lethargy is one whose moments of life are precious, even though it's one moment that makes it suffice: "I saw the glow of her eyes" in reference to a mother becomes what makes the visage of darkness something human in a state of America.
Like the start of Before a Million Universes, contradiction becomes highlighted at its end with "Yawp". With a similar feel to "Negative", the tune verges upon an uglier vocal presence, finally ending with a cry from a roof that is as sinister as it is unexpected. The title's lines are uttered in a manner that's fine with resigning from man-made problems. The men who wish for an alternate universe where their partnerships follow the right steps are committed to also losing themselves, not for the sake of art and something fake, but for something that yearns to be as menacing as the Slints or Shellacs of yesteryear.