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BIG UPS – Eighteen Hours of Static

BIG UPS - Eighteen Hours of Static

I have been away from the pages of our beloved Music Liberation for ages! It’s been a long time since I last had something to say about punk music. In fact, it’s been exactly one year and one day (at the time of writing) since my last album review for any publication about any type of music, which just so happened to be about punk music and written for Music Liberation.

Now, I ain’t going to lie – the main reason I haven’t reviewed any recorded music in a year is because life got in the way. However, I’m not bullshitting when I say it’s been a long time since I last had something to say about punk music, in any of its bastardised forms. Aside from the focus of my last review – the underrated ‘Victus’ by Fall City Fall – I have found nothing in the realms of punk truly worth writing about, and since I had grown tired of repeating the same old blogger jargon – “shows real promise”, “has real potential”, yadda, yadda… – and rehashing PR blurbs, I took some time off and promised myself I wouldn’t review another punk album until I truly felt something of a compulsion too; until I found something actually inspiring. I never expected this self-imposed exile from record reviewing to last a year! But here it is: the first punk album that has managed to grab and sustain my attention for longer than five seconds; the first punk album that I, who probably knows nothing, have deemed worthy of a review over the course of ONE YEAR AND ONE DAY. But enough about me. Just who is this band, I hear ya holler…

They go by the name of Big Ups, there are four of them, they formed in NYC in 2010, their debut album is entitled Eighteen Hours of Static, and they are the greatest punk band to emerge in forever. Despite being an obvious throwback to both the hardcore punk of the 80s, and the post hardcore and alt-rock of the 90s, ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’ is hands down the freshest, most urgent slice of punk rock of this decade and beyond. With 11 songs that clock in at under half an hour (I did the math: the average length of a song is two and half minutes), it’s very short and, despite its lo-fi aesthetic, undeniably substantial.

There is a plenitude of referenced influences sprinkled throughout the record, but the bulk of this racket has its foundation in 90s-era hardcore punk rock; and adding the ‘rock’ after punk isn’t redundant – Big Ups aren’t the metal tinged, growl-centric hardcore punk band that one often associates with the 90s, but more along the lines of a band like The Bronx. In fact, this could well be the best debut of this kind since The Bronx’s debut in 2003.

Frontman Joe Galarraga’s vocals fluctuate between angst-filled but coherent screams and fast-paced spoken word, the drums have a DIY urgency, the bass grumbles, and the guitars, when not generating distorted and basic riffs, add elements of post-punk, 90s alt-rock like grunge and shoegaze, and post hardcore. It all sounds like some glorious, spontaneous amalgamation of Drive Like Jehu, Black Flag, Quicksand, Mazes and The Pixies.

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Opener Body Parts eases us into the album with a slow, pulsating bass line and spiky guitar finger-work, before Galarraga does his best Black Francis impression – it’s probably the most sludgy, dirty moment of the album and, as brilliant as it is, doesn’t exactly set the frantic tone that follows. Next up is Goes Black, which introduces their characteristic hardcore punk; it’s a hugely energetic, semi-up-beat tune with simple but frantic guitar work, and is probably the song that sounds closest to The Descendents, the band Big Ups are most often compared to.

Justice’ showcases Big Ups’ subtle, quiet-loud dynamics, with the verse centred around spoken word and minimal guitar, and the chorus screamed over distorted fuzz. Songs like Grin and Wool incorporate the aforementioned emotive, post-hardcore effects, with the jarring guitar time signatures of the former recalling bands like Fugazi and The Jesus Lizard, and the slowed down pace of the latter achieving a sort of melodic misery attributed to bands early emo bands like Far. TMI is one of the album’s highlights and see the band return to a sound closer to the opening ‘Body Parts’. It has a headbang-inducing central grunge riff, detuned bass and impassioned screams, before a near-metallic closing segment kicks in – for some reason it brings to mind the sorely missed Blood Brothers, perhaps because of the off-kilter guitar work in the verse, which evokes the same kind of unease the BB track ‘We Ride Skeletal Lightning’.

Next up are two short, sharp bursts of frenzied hardcore punk – Little Kid andAtheist Self-Help – which sound somewhere in between Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies. Then comes the album highlight: Disposer. It captures and packages all the various components of the Big Ups DNA; there is the 90s alternative intro, featuring spoken word and restrained but infectious guitar work, and then the end switches between post-hardcore riffing and Minor Threat-paced punk. Fresh Meat follows, again moving from a slow-paced, sludgy beginning to a fast-paced, distorted outro, and the album is closed out with the angry, heavy Fine Line; perhaps the rawest cut of them all.

Lyrically, Galarraga focuses on accessible social commentary, and although it is refreshing in an everyday, relatable kind of way, it sometimes veers away from astute observations to the kind of empty, juvenile angst that is typical of political punk. But there is no denying that he howls and screeches with conviction, and all via a formidable punk rock voice.

It’s an excellent debut by an excellent band. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of references in this review (and every review of this album thus far), but these comparisons to punk rock greats are not hollow, music journo hyperboles; they are full justified. There is no need to talk about “potential” with Big Ups, as this band have seized this very moment, squeezing a genre from both ends – from its 70s origins to its present day saturation – to provide a half hour of vitality, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in yonks.

Originally published by Music Liberation here

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~ by cliveparisrozario on February 13, 2014.

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