+/- (Plus/Minus)

+/- has always given me the impression that they know exactly what they’re doing. Even as their catchy pop has matured, like the members themselves, their songs are still crafted in fine detail; there is no filler, no fluff, and definitely no songs that were mere afterthoughts meant to only take up space. Now that is not to say that there is no passion in +/-. Au contraire, they’re only showing us the passion that they want us to see, dispensing their drug in controlled doses. Xs for Your Eyes, their new LP. will be out October 21st.

Original post from June 30, 2004:
Continuing our tour of former members of the late great Versus (and 3hive’s tour of bands with non-alphabetic names), we now hit +/-, a.k.a. “Plus Minus.” Combining the finer points of electronica and jangly (even emo) pop with their well-honed skills of crunching guitars, +/- purvey a progessive indie rock that’s catchy, hooky, and rockin’.

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Azeda Booth

Here is the sum total of what I know about Calgary, Alberta, Canada: it was the host city for the 1988 Winter Olympics; it is the host city of the annual Calgary Stampede, a crazy-ass Old West chuckwagon race and rodeo; and if you want to cross the street in Calgary but you’re not at a light or a designated crosswalk, just wave your hand and the cars in both directions will stop for you. That last thing may be a lie, but it says something pretty outstanding about Calgarians, and Canadians in general. Could you imagine waving your hand in midtown Manhattan, along Wilshire Blvd. in L.A., or even along Whatever Major Thoroughfare in your U.S. or European city and have drivers stop for pedestrians? Crazy! Such civilized behavior may explain the pleasant surprise of Azeda Booth, which as far as I know is the first band from Calgary of which I’ve been a fan. Azeda Booth’s ambient pop is certainly civilized, with its soothing electronic chimes, muted guitar and high, light vocals. Their new album feels like the heyday of Darla’s Bliss Out series—perfect for bringing calm to a cluttered, chaotic mind. Their older tracks, which were all I could find available to the masses, are just as blissful. All in all, it’s not what you might expect from Calgary, if you know the place as well as I do.

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The first time I listened to Okay was somewhat of a brief and cynical experience. Too cute in its depression, I thought. Their upcoming album Huggable Dust is made up entirely of one-word-title songs that run an average of about two and a half minutes. It’s quirky before you even press “play,” and it gets quirkier once Marty Anderson starts in with his lonesome little-boy quaver over an acoustic guitar and other sounds and instruments reach for a melancholy kind of folk-pop. Yes, it’s a bit of a lo-fi cabaret. But it’s one you won’t want to stop watching thanks to how personal those somber lyrics are made to sound through Anderson’s home recording aesthetic. Fans of Daniel Johnston, The Flaming Lips, and the Elephant Six collective will find much to like. The rest of you might, too.

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The Gang

What does it sound like to have a band of former Jersey prep school kids with great indie DNA joined by a Julliard-trained Icelandic lass? Like a glorious train wreck, actually. The Gang is a Brooklyn-based quintet started by classmates Gary Keating and Rich Bonner, who then recruited Danny Leo (fellow Seton Hall Prep grad and Ted’s little brother), Eva Johannesdottir (not an SHP grad, unless they have a branch in Kopavogur, Iceland), and Patrick Brennan (older brother of Tim in Dropkick Murphys). Yes, they’re all over the place both on the bio sheet and on the MP3s. But don’t worry because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. “One Up the Sun” seems to draw equal inspiration from Gang of Four (perhaps the inspiration for their name as well?) and Billy Joel. And “Sea So” is a cacophonous anthem of screaming vocals, screeching guitars, and a towering rhythm section that barely bothers to keep rhythm. It drives my wife insane even when I listen to it quietly, and that’s more than enough to keep it in heavy rotation on any set of speakers I have that can handle it.

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Cory over at Absolutely Kosher brought Ex-Boyfriends to my attention with perfect timing considering my re-kindled interest in XTC and the accompanying power-pop kick I’m on. Dig their Drums and Wires era vibe—mixed in with a touch of Archers of Loaf and 999. Album’s available next week and in March the band begins making rounds out West. Ready, set, pogo!

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Time for some band genealogy: more than a decade ago, drummer Jason Zumpano stole singer/guitarist Carl Newman from a covers band and formed, simply, Zumpano. Their debut album, on Sub Pop, Look What The Rookie Did, is pure genius. Easily one of my favorite records of the past ten years. See, while too many bands haphazardly claim to be influenced by The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Zumpano is one of the few that make the influence count. After two records Newman and Zumpano went their separate ways and formed The New Pornographers and Sparrow, respectively. It took me a while to track down Sparrow, but it’s been worth the wait.

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The Dudley Corporation

The Dudley Corporation. The name alone sounds like something out of “The Office” (the original British series, which I just spent all weekend watching for the first time ever…eerily genius). Their website gives off a similarly ironic corporate vibe. Musically, these Irish lads have a wonderful pop-hazard sensibility, recalling at times The Smiths without being redundant. Watch for East Coast dates with Pinback in May. Album’s in stores today.

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