On this set's title track, Versus guitarist James Baluyut sings, "Oh, we're running out of room now / don't take that solo attitude." He's probably referencing a troubled relationship, but he could just as easily be musing about this ever-promising side project. Self-Titled Long Playing Debut Album
, Baluyut first's effort as +/-, was recorded as a one-man band; since then, he's recruited Patrick Ramos (another Versus member) and drummer Chris Deaner. Following the recent Holding Patterns
EP, You Are Here
is the fruition of a solo act blossoming into a full-grown band; it's also a stunning album that even someone unfamiliar with Versus should check out.
At first, this album continues along the electro-pop route that dominated Self-Titled. "Ventriloquist" opens with a nervy, persistent guitar lick and programmed beat, all of which would make for a delicious New Order rip if not for the much-more-emotive-than-Bernard-Sumner vocal. "Surprise!" follows, not so subtly inverting Depeche Mode's "Behind The Wheel", while sounding delicate rather than deathless. But get ready -- although it references even more '80s Brit faves (The Cure, The Smiths, and maybe even Echo and the Bunnymen), there's very little electro about "Trapped Under Ice Floes (Redux)" (which appeared in a slightly different version on Holding Patterns). Propulsive, ringing and gloriously upbeat, it makes a lyric about drowning sound almost as classic as, say, "Bigmouth Strikes Again" or "Killing Moon".
On subsequent tracks, the rhythms often unexpectedly register as strongly as the melodies. For instance, notice how "She's Got Your Eyes"' telepathic, repetitive guitar riff both counteracts the wistful nature of the song's jazzy top and falsetto croon and complements the sparse, intermittently hidden electronics at the bottom. Or perhaps you'd rather listen for the tap-tap-tap that stops and reappears at key moments throughout "Scarecrow", and the way it works in tandem with other added percussive figures. This approach figures in quite literally on "Cutting Out", which alternates between an intricate, xylophone-like keyboard and hand drum bottom and integrally placed string-shredding outbursts, with Baluyut's affecting, upfront vocal always present.
In between those darker, quietly tense offerings, the band drops such numbers as the building, anthemic "Megalomaniac" and "Summer Dress 1 (All Her Winter Clothes)", an intimate, gorgeously strummed acoustic waltz that seems beautifully plucked from out of nowhere. Somehow, everything fits and the pace rarely falters. All the way through the hushed, heartbroken closer, "Everything I See Makes It Feel Wrong", You Are Here seems uncommonly confident and resourceful. If Versus never record another note, it'll seem like less of a loss, as long as +/- continues to put out albums as uniformly strong as this one.