by Dan Manning (@mandanning324)
Subdued harmonics and cymbal swells serve as a relatively soft introduction to “Contain Myself”, the opening track off of Big Ups’ sophomore LP Before A Million Universes. And yet, the listener gets only the slightest moment to bask in the ambience before the song explodes in their face with overdriven bass accents and frontman Joe Galarraga’s droning, repetitive vocal lines. The song builds up to a searing chorus, coming down ever so slight in the second verse. During the bridge, Galarraga’s screams reverberate and echo as if he’s shouting his self-fulfilling sentiment from the bottom of a well he can’t quite seem to climb out of.
Instrumentally, as well as vocally, every track on Before a Million Universes demonstrates a precise and wide dynamic range. Everything is kept tight, in control, and let loose just at the right moments, for just the right amount of time before being rounded back up into a compact, groovy package. The record is ever so slightly more subdued than their debut LP Eighteen Hours of Static but because of the leaps in dynamics maintains a higher level of tension. When the band decides to lay low, the listener is filled with nervous anticipation, waiting for the moment when everything opens up yet again in an explosive fury.
One of the standout tracks on the album, and perhaps the most emotionally exposed, is the single “National Parks”, an ode to Galarraga’s single mother and the sacrifices she made for her children. He mutters that there’s “no such thing as leisure” for her, going back and forth debating with himself the burden he may have placed on her and the ensuing guilt, as he exclaims “because she’s all alone, we left her alone”. There is a silver lining here though, as the woman in the song walks alone amongst a vast forest, attaching a sense of security to her solitude. Perhaps Galarraga is writing his own ending to the story, grasping at a sense of security that he wants to provide for his mother in return for all she has given him.
Before a Million Universes shows Big Ups coming into their own, expanding their sound while simultaneously tightening the screws. They are sleeker, tenser, more dynamic, and more explosive. Rather than being an immediate barrage, as it was on their debut, the explosions of energy here are more precisely calculated and intentional. Every move is made with careful contemplation, every decision informed. The album is a rewarding listen that manages to be cathartic both in personal emotion and existential anguish.