+/- (Plus/Minus)
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+/- (Plus/Minus)

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Aug
23
+/- (Plus/Minus) @ SLG Publishing Art Boutiki and Comic Art Gallery

San Jose, California, United States

San Jose, California, United States

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+/-
You Are Here (Teenbeat)
4 stars! ****

While nominally a side project for Versus strummer James Baluyut, +/- has evolved into a rather convincing main show. The band gives Baluyut an outlet to explore his electronic impulses while still cleaving to his innate melodicism, and although it features a few pure rawk moments ("Megalomaniac," "Trapped Under Ice Floes"), You Are Here, the band's second full-length, ranks with The Notwist's Neon Golden and The Postal Service's Give Up as an exemplar of the emerging digi-rock movement. +/- integrate electronics in a way that doesn't seem decorative or supplementary: sequenced beats and indie guitars are equally culpable in the drama of tracks like "Ventriloquist" and "No One Sees You." Nominee for modern-rock track of the year: "She's Got Your Eyes," a creepy retribution tale that sounds like a cross between My Bloody Valentine and Arcwelder. - Andre Mayer, eye, December 11, 2003.

- Eye


+/-
You Are Here (Teenbeat)

Jimmy and Pat from Versus strike out on their own. At a gig this band is a standard four-piece. On record they can break down into New Order-ish electronics sometimes, though other songs recall their Versus roots, even veering off into Death Cab For Cutie land at times. Live drums were recorded by Geoff Sanoff at Stratosphere Sound in NYC in two days ("An ace engineer. I wish I could afford to do a whole record with him. Nicest guy in the world.") Everything else was recorded by Jimmy, at his apartment in NYC in one month. Minimal gear at home included a Shure SM57, Rode NT1, Neumann TLM 103, HHB Radius 50 (tube pre, compressor) and a SansAmp Classic - and was recorded 20-24 bits to an Aardvark Soundcard on Dell PC. [Mastered by] Michael Iurato at Jigsaw Sound (NYC). Jimmy says, "I would add that I'm not impressed by the mastering. I feel like it sounded better before - but whatever... I'm not convinced mastering is great for everyone. I mix while referencing a variety of other artist's mastered tracks - if they hold up next to those and I like how they sound, why spend the dough?" Either way, it's good stuff. - Larry Crane, Tape Op.
- Tape Op


+/-
You Are Here (Teenbeat)

Versus has always been one of indie rock's most redoubtable acts, but is the group good enough to justify a spin-off project? With Versus apparently on hiatus, why not? +/- features Versus guitarist James Baluyut and drummer Patrick Ramos sharing vocal and guitar duties, plus drummer pal Chris Deaner and a couple of other friends, and to be fair the music doesn't always rely on Versus' guitar squall template.

In fact, "You Are Here" starts off with a pair of atmospheric slabs of neo-electronica, flavored with only ghostly bits of chiming, reverberating and sometimes churning guitars. But with "Ventriloquist" and "Surprise!" out of the way, the disc quickly reverts back to a more familiar indie-rock mode. Thankfully, songs such as "Trapped Under Ice Floes [Redux]" and "Megalomaniac" capture the same sort of dynamic and anthemic mood swings that marked Versus' best material. With the exception of the percolating "No One Sees You Like I Do," Baluyut's guitar playing remains center stage for the duration of the disc.

Of course, no guitar album is complete without the token acoustic ballad, and here Baluyut contributes two of them: the sweet "Summer Dress 1 [All Her Winter Clothes]" and closer "Everything I See Makes It Feel Wrong," which ends with some humming keyboards and a squonking yet somehow tasteful horn solo. If anything, songs like these show +/- to be more diverse and adventurous than Versus ever was, even if the tantalizingly short 40-minute disc often seems to be just scratching the surface.- Joshua Klein, Billboard.
- Billboard


Wow. No, seriously, WOW. Somehow +/-, once known more for its "members of Versus" tag than anything else, have transformed into indie rock’s brightest contenders. The sophistication – compositionally, aesthetically, melodically, lyrically – on You Are Here is so profoundly perfect, so solid, that I dare say it makes them the ONLY indie band worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief. The parallels are all there: The smart songcraft wrapped in well-layered electronica, inventive time signatures making love to catchy vocal lines, the addition and subtraction of the subtlest detail that somehow make a world of difference... The efficiency is almost mathematically precise. And with such flawless balance of all the right textures and cues, is it any wonder that not one out of the 11 tracks here falls below amazing?

Every song is unique in its mood, delivery, and anatomy, yet all of them manipulate nuances to turn their cores upside down, inside out, into another sonic language and back again without losing any identity. Example: "She’s Got Your Eyes" has a grooving clean guitar riding along at 7/8, but then reinterprets its boundaries by taking out everything and readdressing the riff with keyboard sub-bass before exploding into a distortion guitar-heavy version of the same refrain. The dynamics of the transitions keep the momentum from being disturbed, allowing the song to redefine itself multiple times without losing its focus.

Sometimes, these redefinitions even enhance the lyrics. In "No One Sees You Like I Do," a sneaky electronic intro plays on the listener’s presumption that the song – based on the title – is an endearing ode to a loved one... until further verses reveal the double meaning. "No one sees you like I do" means "you’re special in my eyes," but also evidently "no one else gets to see you the way I do, which is bound and gagged and kidnapped." Of course, guitarist James Buluyut never spells it out that clearly, he lets the music do that. Just as references to tied hands and blindfolds deliver the song’s actual meaning, the serene electronic blanket is intercepted by bursts of crashing cymbals and screaming power chords (and back again). The disorienting juxtaposition and "boo!" nature of the sudden change make the lyrical revelation that much more unexpected. Brilliant.

Elsewhere, Baluyut uses double meanings to similar effect. On "Cutting Out," he sings alongside vibraphones "I called you on the phone/you’re cutting out... I’m still hanging on/you’re cutting out/I think you’re breaking up," before the chorus erupts into a jangly storm and he declares "I didn’t realize what you had said/I only thought the line was going dead." Simple description of a cell phone conversation gone wrong? Or metaphorical imagery of a romantic breakdown? More important than a straight answer is the fact that, unlike most rock lyrics (which border on asinine), Buluyut is able to build shades of viewpoints within words. The fact that he’s able to structure the song around them is even more of an accomplishment.

And what accomplishments these songs are. Whether it’s the fragile "Summer Dress 1 (All Her Winter Clothes)" or the-song-Longwave-and-Radio-4-wish-they-could-write "Trapped Under Ice Floes (Redux)," melodies are aplenty and hooks are in all of your orifices. Even guitarist/vocalist Patrick Ramos (Versus’ drummer, no less) contributes two of the album’s best tracks, opener "Ventriloquist" (mesmerizing electronica) and "Megalomaniac" (an odd-time strummer that’s the closest thing to Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album’s material). "Here We Are (Again)" sounds like an excellent lost Jejune track from their heyday, "Everything I See Makes it Feel Wrong" closes out the album with sombre heartbreak and perfectly-placed choir/trumpets (again with the immaculate details!). There simply isn’t anything here not praise-worthy. Stack it all up on top of drummer Chris Deaner’s Ft. Knox-thick chops, and I’m placing all bets on +/-.

You Are Here is the final word on indie rock’s marriage to electronica, not to mention a reaffirmation of everything that’s good about songwriting. When a band can pull off such an unbelievable feat, do you dare not worship them? - Timothy Den, Lollipop Magazine.
- Lollipop Magazine


James Baluyut is one creepy motherfucker. The latest heir to a crown of indie rock royalty (brothers Ed and Richard founded Versus, of which James was later a member), Baluyut's recent +/- (as in "Plus/Minus") project paints the guy as a romantic train wreck--from the reluctant bleeding heart of his solo introduction, Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut, to the downright goose-bumped obsessions of the full-band follow-up, You Are Here. From the former's arm's-lengthed approach to courtship to the latter's disturbing infatuation fantasies, Baluyut's bearings have shifted dramatically--in both approach and intent. Gone is the ethereal blush of the beautifully scatterbrained debut, the
stumbling sweetness that so often propelled that record. And while still elaborately orchestrated laptop-pop, You Are Here realizes the focused (if heaving) computer-based rock sound its predecessor only hinted at. Replacing a couple of drum machines for an army of distortion pedals (real big ones, too), +/- surmounts its growing indie-electro peers with sheer weight--and though the lyrics are occasionally inane, Baluyut proves that there can be more to laptop-pop than the Postal Service. You know, like being really creepy. - Zac Pennington, The Stranger. - The Stranger


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. - Chris Kriofske, Splendid Ezine.
- Splendid


Discography

You Are Here (album) | Teenbeat | 2004
Holding Patterns (EP) | Teenbeat | 2003
Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album (album) | Teenbeat | 2002

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Bio

New York City act +/- was originally conceived in 2001 as a vehicle for the songs of Versus guitarist James Baluyut. When Teenbeat head Mark Robinson heard "She’s So Lost," James’ contribution to the Versus EP Drawn and Quartered, he suggested that he’d be interested in putting out an LP. The first LP (Self-Titled Long Playing Debut Album), on which James essentially played and recorded everything under the +/- moniker, was released on Teenbeat in early 2002. A cut and pasted take on orchestrated pop, the record was a study in off-kilter percussion, utilizing unorthodox time signatures while melding electronic loops and natural drums. It was a remarkable achievement, sounding unlike anything released in recent memory.
The act quickly evolved into a full-fledged band, with the addition of fellow Versus member and longtime friend Patrick Ramos on guitar and vocals, and Austin, TX expatriate Chris Deaner on drums, who’d previously spent time in The Damnations. This new incarnation of +/- joined James on the road in support of the LP, and participated in the recording of the Holding Patterns EP, released this past spring. The trio came together once more at James’ NYC apartment for the writing and recording of the new LP. True Love Always member and frequent +/- touring bassist Tony Zanella also stepped into the fold with contributions.
Preserving the rhythmic experimentation of the debut while capturing the energy of their live shows, You Are Here is the sound of a band hitting its stride. While maintaining their trademark blending of electronic and live drumbeats ("Cutting Out," "No One Sees You Like I Do"), the record also delves into more traditional rock dynamics. The ebullient live favorite "Trapped Under Ice Floes" reappears, altered from the original Holding Patterns version, but no less exhilarating in this slightly more concise form, with the crashing guitar interplay between James and Patrick still intact. Patrick also takes over on lead vocals for two vastly different tracks, the pulsating electro opener "Ventriloquist" and the riff heavy "Megalomaniac."
The delicate side of Self-Titled thankfully hasn’t been neglected. "Summer Dress 1 (All Her Winter Clothes)" is a lithe, Nick Drake inspired ballad. The gorgeous jangle pop of "Here We Are (Again)" (a duet with Margaret McCartney of Tuscadero/Hot Pursuit) and the forlorn ballad "Everything I See Makes It Feel Wrong," close out You Are Here on a pensive, compelling note.
+/- will tour extensively behind the LP. They’ve played shows in the past with Jason Lowenstein, Yo La Tengo, The Mercury Program and many others. Check www.plusmin.us for the latest details on when they’ll be coming to your city and who they’ll be sharing the stage with. Expect harder and louder interpretations of tracks from the record along with some old favorites. Make sure to bring your earplugs.