Noise rock and post-hardcore never really died — not exactly, anyway. Nor has either undergone any kind of clickbait-friendly “revival.” And even the most blistering punk bands will eventually find a way to dull their edge or soften their approach. Still, it’s heartening to see that abrasion and discord is finding its way back into indie rock in the ‘10s, whether it’s Cloud Nothings’ abandonment of lo-fi pop for Wipers-style rave-ups, Speedy Ortiz’s incorporation of Unwound-esque dynamics into hook-laden anthems, or Pissed Jeans’ unending dedication to alienation through volume. There’s arguably never been a better time in the past 10 years to be a noisy punk band than right now.
Big Ups, a post-hardcore quartet from New York, is one of the most furious and intense bands to emerge of late, their searing, two-minute rippers owing equally to the churning abrasion of The Jesus Lizard, and the high-speed punch of The Nation of Ulysses, with a touch of classic SST just for added punk rock nutrients. They’re an unstoppable force of anxiety and menace, their grinding gears often jammed into the default position of total fucking oblivion. On the first listen to their debut, Eighteen Hours of Static, you probably won’t be ready for what’s about to hit you.
For all the wallop that Big Ups pack, however, Eighteen Hours of Static is more about jittery nervousness dialed up to 11.5 than outright aggression. Indeed, it’s loud and fast, and might peel some of the paint off of your walls, if it doesn’t break a window in the process. But Big Ups’ assault comes in fits and starts, with plenty of twitchy energy to spare, and though it takes off like a bottle rocket in “Goes Black,” its trajectory isn’t so straight and narrow. It zig zags off of rooftops and walls, running a spoken-word gauntlet through its verse before finally achieving liftoff as vocalist Joe Galarraga shifts into full on existential panic mode, screaming, “What happens when it all goes black and I’m lying there dying and I’m trying to think back?!” in one of the album’s most satisfyingly explosive choruses.
Galarraga is a highly effective spokesperson for Big Ups’ brand of punk rock neurosis, frequently toeing a line between poetic introspection and just plain losing his shit. Big Ups spend the verses of “Justice” exploring a funky, atmospheric dynamic, but it’s only a brief reprieve from Galarraga’s full-throated reality check: “Everybody says that it’s getting better all the time, but it’s bad/ Still bad.” And in the melancholy, melodic “Wool,” it takes three minutes before Galarraga even raises his voice, but in his muted mutterings, he still manages to project his angst clearly and powerfully (“I pull the wool over my own eyes/ Because I don’t want to see… me”).
That Big Ups tend toward the jerky and unpredictable is largely a strength on their part, allowing them to hit the listener from left-field and to lull him or her into a false sense of comfort before shit gets completely out of hand. You can certainly sense it — in the descending bass groove before “Little Kid” turns into hardcore tantrum, or as the Fugazi-style funk-punk rhythm in “Disposer” grows ever closer to violence as Galarraga keeps up an eerily calm mantra of “take… out… the… trash.” But Eighteen Hours of Static rarely allows for much more than a cursory warning before destruction erupts. Big Ups are less a brawler looking to pick a fight than a twitchy, ever-so-unstable wildcard; maybe the former can cause more damage, but with the latter, you won’t even see the knockout coming.