As the lead song on You Are Here, the second album from +/- (Plus Minus), “Ventriloquist” is practically a case study in gracefully executed furor. A savvy, fiery blend of house beats, burbling electronics, and driving electric guitar, its strength lies in its impeccable production. So effortlessly do the disparate threads of the song blend together, that +/- never seem like they’re lost, or fleshing a song out around one simple idea. Though fast-paced, “Ventriloquist” is hardly a slipshod effort; rather, it gives the impression of being calculated, utilitarian, and completely premeditated in its flawless construction.
August 3, 2006
This impression is wrong. “For this last album, we had a batch of songs. Some of them were just sketches, just parts.”.
“Ventriloquist” was one of these sketches. “The lead track on You Are Here, which is called ‘Ventriloquist,’ was only one part when we recorded it,” Baluyut said. “It was [just] the guitar part. There were no melodies. There were no drum beats. There was nothing. But we recorded it, and thought, ‘okay, well, maybe in the process it’ll become something.’ And it eventually did.” For all its free acceptance, however, +/-‘s approach to songwriting is hardly due to laziness.
“Anybody who’s in a band and has [made] a record knows you record more songs than you think,” Baluyut said. “And there are always these weird songs that you think, ‘Well it’s not that good, but let’s record it anyway.’ And it becomes an integral part, or one of your favorites, and it could have been discarded anywhere along the way. But you have to give everything a chance.”
The band translates that open-minded perspective to playing gigs, also. Rather than playing an amplified version of their discography, +/- instead opts to experiment with structure and composition.
“You pay for a show, and you can get a slightly less-good sounding version of the record, or you can get something different, and I think it’s better to experience something different,” Baluyut said. “I don’t want to see a band that’s perfect, that plays everything exactly what they do on the record. I’m just not interested in getting the exact same experience. That’s always turned me off, when bands are too good, and there’s no energy there. They don’t get excited. They’re just technicians.”
And playing live is certainly something +/- gets excited about. The first +/- release was essentially a Baluyut solo effort, and the actual band was assembled to play those songs live. What resulted was a monolithic, nearly-constant run of shows, running from the spring of 2002 until late May this year.
“It’s important to me to play live shows these days,” Baluyut said. “It’s good to make records, but playing live is becoming this lost art. A lot of bands don’t even do it anymore, and if they do do it, they’re all using these recorded tapes. There’s no chemistry or interaction. Everything’s planned. There’s no danger involved, and that’s the whole fun of it, I think.” “We wouldn’t have been able to write [You Are Here] before all the touring, before we got to know each other,” he continued. “It definitely changes the way you look at what the other band members can do.”
+/- is currently applying this heightened awareness to recording, taking their first extended break from touring in over two years. Baluyut has about 20 concepts he’s thinking of working with, and the ideas that +/- has come up with collectively currently number in the teens. But these large numbers do not necessarily translate into songs. There’s no telling which ideas the band will be able to hammer into songs, as in the case of “Ventriloquist,” or which ones will initially seem promising but lead to dead ends. For instance, two of the songs that +/- initially thought would certainly make You Are Here’s cut actually have yet to see the light of day.
As for details regarding the album’s sound, all we can expect is the heady eclecticism found on You Are Here.
“It might be a little difficult for us to have one unified sound, because part of what we want to do is not do any of the things we did before,” Baluyut said. “Every band probably says that, but we’re hyperaware of writing the same kind of song twice. Any time that happens, that song is just gone.”
“There is something to the Ramones, where they all kind of sound similar, but I guess we’re just not interested in that,” he added.
That’s more than just talk. You Are Here managed to cover a tremendous amount of ground, both stylistically and emotionally. The album flows with the exhilarating logic of a single composition while touching upon approaches as diverse as the sexy electro-pop of “Surprise,” the anthemic rock of “Megalomaniac,” and the weirdly calming, eerily beautiful dream-pop of “Everything I See Makes It Feel Wrong.”
That willful commitment to variety should come as no surprise, however. “We’re trying to avoid music that has been done before,” Baluyut said. “I don’t want to do 60s inspired pop, and I don’t want to do 70s rock, and I don’t want to do early 80s post-punk. I don’t want to rehash indie rock. That stuff’s going to be in there somewhere, but I don’t want to be brazen about being retro and wear Brian Wilson on my sleeve,” he added. “I mean, I have lots of friends in bands that are really good, and they reference things in the past. But I am both not interested in that, and not good at it, which I guess is fortunate.”
And we thank him for that.