Last week, I saw Big Ups play a CMJ showcase at Cameo Gallery for a small crowd of give-or-take 30 people (Big Ups were the first of six bands on the bill). They are one of the few bands that I saw during the marathon who could make an uncomfortably empty venue feel like it was at capacity. Calling lead singer Joe Galarraga confrontational is an unforgivable understatement — at every Big Ups show I’ve ever been to, he crawls down from the stage and wanders through the audience, wide eyed, singing into the faces of his fans. His between-song chatter is abrasive and funny and self-deprecating. Brendan Finn, Amar Lal, and Carlos Salguero Jr., who founded the band with Galarraga at NYU in 2010, have that same unapologetic energy channeled into making gorgeously succinct, gratifyingly loud arrangements, that have all of the crisp calculation of studied musicians.
“Wool” is a track off of Big Ups’ debut album, Eighteen Hours Of Static, due out in January of next year. Before they performed “Wool” last week, Galarraga muttered the introduction, “This is a sad song.” In the track’s quieter moments, he talk-sings like a spoken word poet — Galarraga’s ruminations are as meandering and lovely as they are depression-inducing. They are also painfully straightforward. Big Ups make manic post-punk music, but their sound is so dependent on confessional lyricism that Galarraga’s voice is rarely drowned out until he wails along to the cathartic chorus. It is equally disarming and humbling when you hear a band that sounds incapable of holding anything back. Listen to “Wool” below.