+/-: You Are Here

The New York trio +/- is known mainly as an offshoot of Versus (and the most search-engine-defying band this side of !!!), but with You Are Here, it aims to establish itself as more than a coalition of quirks. The group's accurately named 2002 record Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album had a muted, experimental quality, as Versus guitarist/producer James Baluyut, former Versus drummer Patrick Ramos, and former Tuscadero bassist Margaret McCartney nudged around quietly pulsing guitar sounds and a supple mix of electronic and natural percussion. You Are Here doesn't have Long-Playing Debut's sense of playful discovery; it's more purposeful and ambitious. With Chris Deaner providing yet another set of drums (plus photography and video direction), +/- has become a conventional band, with fully developed songs replacing fleeting inspiration. Of course, "fully developed songs" has a different meaning here. Over the past decade, countless indie-rock acts have merged the personal preoccupations of insular artists with their latter-day Phil Spector fantasies–fusing sound, mood, and poetry while engaging conventional song structure only in the abstract. As a result, vets like Baluyut haven't developed the knack for instant knockout tracks, and You Are Here's stabs at musical generosity, like the propulsive "Trapped Under Ice Floes" and the acoustic ballad "Summer Dress 1 (All Her Winter Clothes)," end up sounding like a more deliberate, less imaginative Versus. Better tracks include the equally Versus-esque "Cutting Out," which staggers its guitar eruptions with tape manipulations and percolating xylophone, and Ramos' anthemic "Megalomaniac," which sounds like a charmingly handmade version of classic-rock bluster. The best moments on You Are Here are also the slightest, like the shuddering "She's Got Your Eyes," which reverts to moodplay in shooting guitars through intricate rhythm patterns, just to see if it can be done.

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