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Versus: Two Cents Plus Tax



Album: Two Cents Plus Tax
Label: Caroline

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The term "indie-rock" brings to mind a shambling, collegiate attempt at pathos-infused, guitar-driven music. It doesn't matter whether the band itself is on an independent label; you hear "indie-rock," and you know what you're in for. Or do you? New York's Versus once straddled the fence separating mature, melodic songcraft from adolescent emotional outbursts: Both The Stars Are Insane (on an indie label) and Secret Swingers (not on an indie label) explored the same Mission Of Burma-inspired art-rock, only Versus' sensitive songs had a decidedly pop bent that made them slightly superior to the work of your average angst-filled rock band. Two Cents Plus Tax, Versus' third album, finally finds the group perfecting its sound, and while the bass-guitars-drums-vocals instrumentation is familiar, the songwriting is anything but commonplace. "Never Be OK," sung by bassist Fontaine Toups, may be her best vocal turn since "River" (from The Stars Are Insane), while "Atomic Kid" and "Morning Glory" both make good use of harmonies and anthemic arrangements. For his part, singer Richard Baluyut injects his vocals with just enough venom to add an edge to even the sweetest songs. While there's a remarkably naïve vibe to these bitter break-up ruminations—which are peppered with snippy references to husbands, girlfriends, and a host of mysterious pronouns—Two Cents Plus Tax doesn't sound like the work of most angry young players. Instead, it sounds like Versus' smart, strong bid for attention, the band kicking and screaming its way to the top of the heap. It's unlikely that any like-minded band these days has the songs or the spirit to knock Versus off its well-deserved pedestal.