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+/-: Let's Build A Fire

B

+/-

Album: Let's Build A Fire
Label: Absolutely Kosher

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In the early going, +/- songs sounded like Versus with the guitars turned down and the percussion made more syncopated, which made sense given that +/- was essentially a side project for Versus' second guitarist James Baluyut and drummer Patrick Ramos. But on the band's new album, Let's Build A Fire, the only overtly Versus-like track is the second one, "Fadeout," which layers hushed minor-key crooning, a clattering beat, and forceful guitar explosions. The rest of the album nods more to The Feelies and Unrest in its dreamy vocals, preoccupation with tight rhythmic patterns, and nods to the theatricality of Cursive and The Arcade Fire.

Fire is still as fundamentally wan as its +/- predecessors, though, and in some ways the clearer, more aggressive sound only exposes Baluyut and Ramos' weaknesses as songwriters and performers. In Project Runway parlance, Fire is like a fashion show with not enough looks, as too many songs follow the same path, quietly pinging back and forth, then erupting. The rock elements are too clean and hard, and the pop elements sprinkle down like fake snow. But when Let's Build A Fire works, it works smashingly, as on the sprightly "Summer Dress 2 (Iodine)," the halting "One Day You'll Be There," and the twinkly, twangy "Leap Year." There, +/- sound like modernist shamans, performing elaborate incantations to call down a rain of static.