Annoying nerdy band name aside, Plus/Minus (or +/-, if you’re so inclined) have to be one of the finest musical things to come out of New York for a long time. They’ve been going since 1991 and are relatively unheralded here, being one of those groups with the oft-terminal tag of being ‘big in Japan’. However, on this rare occasion, it would seem we’re actually missing out.
The band started out as pretty much a solo project for Versus’ James Baluyut, but now includes drummer Chris Deaner and Versus band mate Patrick Ramos as permanent members. Besides a few electronic dashes here and there to help build atmosphere, they create beautiful, evocative and thrilling indie music, and Xs on Your Eyes is as good an album as I’ve heard all year.
Fierce strumming abounds, alongside some complex and technical drum patterns, but lovely vocals, gentle harmonies and the imaginative use of everything from trumpets to xylophones to fill in the gaps makes for a compelling and varied sound. It’s not often you hear a band switch from summery pop to brooding Mogwai-esque math thrashing and make it sound so effortless.
Fans of sadly defunct indie rockers Versus should expect a much mellower, less abrasive and fraught sound; there’s only one track where the old “wall of sound” cliché can be used, ‘Tired Eyes’ – a definite album highlight. But it’s like those once firey young ’uns found country music. It happens to us all, I’m afraid.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I’ve taken to Xs on Your Eyes so much. I’m normally a real lyrics person, but I don’t find myself listening to them here. But the music is, quite simply, breathtaking at times. As an album it ebbs and flows wonderfully; there’s no filler, and the tracks seem to flow whichever order you play them in. And while I can work away with it on in the background, when one of the truly standout moments comes along (the aforementioned ‘Tired Eyes’, for example, or the soaring ‘The Hours Keep You’) I can feel my mood brighten.
If you have an indie bone in your body, you should give this a few listens at the very least.