+/- – Plus Minus – You are Here – Review


You are Here (Teenbeat)
by Tim Den

Wow. No, seriously, WOW. Somehow +/-, once known more for its “members of Versus” tag than anything else, have transformed into indie rock’s brightest contenders. The sophistication – compositionally, aesthetically, melodically, lyrically – on You Are Here is so profoundly perfect, so solid, that I dare say it makes them the ONLY indie band worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief. The parallels are all there: The smart songcraft wrapped in well-layered electronica, inventive time signatures making love to catchy vocal lines, the addition and subtraction of the subtlest detail that somehow make a world of difference… The efficiency is almost mathematically precise. And with such flawless balance of all the right textures and cues, is it any wonder that not one out of the 11 tracks here falls below amazing?

Every song is unique in its mood, delivery, and anatomy, yet all of them manipulate nuances to turn their cores upside down, inside out, into another sonic language and back again without losing any identity. Example: “She’s Got Your Eyes” has a grooving clean guitar riding along at 7/8, but then reinterprets its boundaries by taking out everything and readdressing the riff with keyboard sub-bass before exploding into a distortion guitar-heavy version of the same refrain. The dynamics of the transitions keep the momentum from being disturbed, allowing the song to redefine itself multiple times without losing its focus.

Sometimes, these redefinitions even enhance the lyrics. In “No One Sees You Like I Do,” a sneaky electronic intro plays on the listener’s presumption that the song – based on the title – is an endearing ode to a loved one… until further verses reveal the double meaning. “No one sees you like I do” means “you’re special in my eyes,” but also evidently “no one else gets to see you the way I do, which is bound and gagged and kidnapped.” Of course, guitarist James Buluyut never spells it out that clearly, he lets the music do that. Just as references to tied hands and blindfolds deliver the song’s actual meaning, the serene electronic blanket is intercepted by bursts of crashing cymbals and screaming power chords (and back again). The disorienting juxtaposition and “boo!” nature of the sudden change make the lyrical revelation that much more unexpected. Brilliant.

Elsewhere, Baluyut uses double meanings to similar effect. On “Cutting Out,” he sings alongside vibraphones “I called you on the phone/you’re cutting out… I’m still hanging on/you’re cutting out/I think you’re breaking up,” before the chorus erupts into a jangly storm and he declares “I didn’t realize what you had said/I only thought the line was going dead.” Simple description of a cell phone conversation gone wrong? Or metaphorical imagery of a romantic breakdown? More important than a straight answer is the fact that, unlike most rock lyrics (which border on asinine), Buluyut is able to build shades of viewpoints within words. The fact that he’s able to structure the song around them is even more of an accomplishment.

And what accomplishments these songs are. Whether it’s the fragile “Summer Dress 1 (All Her Winter Clothes)” or the-song-Longwave-and-Radio-4-wish-they-could-write “Trapped Under Ice Floes (Redux),” melodies are aplenty and hooks are in all of your orifices. Even guitarist/vocalist Patrick Ramos (Versus’ drummer, no less) contributes two of the album’s best tracks, opener “Ventriloquist” (mesmerizing electronica) and “Megalomaniac” (an odd-time strummer that’s the closest thing to Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album‘s material). “Here We Are (Again)” sounds like an excellent lost Jejune track from their heyday, “Everything I See Makes it Feel Wrong” closes out the album with sombre heartbreak and perfectly-placed choir/trumpets (again with the immaculate details!). There simply isn’t anything here not praise-worthy. Stack it all up on top of drummer Chris Deaner’s Ft. Knox-thick chops, and I’m placing all bets on +/-.

You Are Here is the final word on indie rock’s marriage to electronica, not to mention a reaffirmation of everything that’s good about songwriting. When a band can pull off such an unbelievable feat, do you dare not worship them?