While +/- began as a side-project by Versus’ James Baluyat, the band has really grown into its own over the years as an established force in indietronica. After touring off of 2006’s Let’s Build a Fire (QRO review), the New York three-piece disappeared for a while (with Baluyat even going back to Versus for a reunion tour), but now they’ve returned with Xs on Your Eyes. On the new record, +/- steps out of their electronic comfort zone, and while perhaps not as fine as what the band’s done before, Xs certainly shows some growth.
One thing +/- did not leave behind was their high harmony, which pervades Xs just as it did Fire and previous records. But instead of relying so much on indietronic beats and quiet-loud guitars, the group places less emphasis on rhythm, and varies up their instrumentation. The most stark changes come near the end, with tracks like “Marina” and “You’ll Catch Your Death”, where the band manages to delve into alt-country/folk twang (even slide guitar…). But many other numbers have newer elements, like the straighter indie-into-hightronic horns of “Subdued”, the grand and even anthemistic “The Queen of Nothing”, the high, pretty strum of “Halos” (which is also relatively boring until its fuzzy ending), and the bright and sunny title track, which provides a nice change on an otherwise downbeat record.
There are still some pieces that are more reminiscent of older +/-, such as opener “Tired Eyes”, which breaks into pressing, pleading guitars. Meanwhile, the pressing march drumbeat of “The Hours You Keep” doesn’t quite fit with the track’s high melody, but is a nice try. But perhaps best is when the band combines these two strains, like with the wistful “Unsung” or “Flight Data Recorder”: the former also has a catch & hook that worms its way into your heart, while the latter, Xs’s finisher, just builds and builds.
Having been around since 2001, it was about time that +/- tried something new. And the step away from electronics is a particularly apt, given how electronics feels about the band – ‘+/-’ used to be first in alphabetical order on iTunes, before subsequent updates to the Apple program knocked them to last, and then to unreadable (a fate that also befell !!! – QRO live review). While their new direction could still use some tweaking, and one can miss their previous sound, +/- did need some ambition.