February 1, 2007


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WARNING! Procrastination alert: the following album will cause long periods of daydreaming and a subsequent lack of production. Brooklyn based indie-pop band +/- began in 2001 as the solo project of former Versus guitarist James Baluyut. Shortly thereafter, the additions of fellow Versus member Patrick Ramos and drummer Chris Deaner transformed +/- into an inventive trio. The band’s third full-length album Let’s Build a Fire presents a sound that has evolved into a versatile synergy comprised of Baluyut’s clear and capable voice, his and Ramos’s complimenting guitar melodies and Deaner’s intricate brilliance on drums.
The title track begins with horns accompanied by the crackling of a vinyl record straight out of the 1920s. Shortly into the song, however, the nostalgic tune is suddenly overpowered by a fuzzy electric guitar and more horns, now roaring. Call it a cheap trick if you want, but this technique fits well with a song about moving on from the past to a new beginning. The second track, “Fadeout,” begins with a simple and ever-repeating guitar riff along with a drum beat that is likely to throw off even the most avid finger drummers. The song continues to build as Baluyut proves his ability to hit and hold the high notes. Finally, the trance is broken by loudly distorted guitar strumming that causes some enthusiastic head nodding.
It would be impossible to make any generalizations about Let’s Build a Fire beyond that it is an eclectic mix of the best that modern indie-pop has to offer. The first single, “Steal the Blueprints,” sounds like The Postal Service and Chin Up Chin Up blended together. The very next track, “The Important Thing Is to Love,” has gloomy vocals reminiscent of Elliot Smith. Every song has its defining characteristics, whether remarkable drum beats, twanging banjo parts, or beautifully crafted piano melodies. Arguably the most serene tune is “This Is All (I Have Left),” which includes reverberating and chiming guitar sounds, toe-tapping drum beats, and extremely gentle vocals meticulously combined into an anthem for staring off into the distance.
Emo? It’s debatable, but fear not: if they are indeed emo, it is a new brand of emo; a kind more likely to sport blues, greens and browns. Regardless of labels, +/- offers a phenomenal blend of sounds that rewards the dedicated music fan.