New York City's +/- (pronounced "plus/minus") is a pleasant act whose third album, Let's Build a Fire, expands the pleasantries of its first two albums, 2002's Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album and 2003's You are Here. From airy instrumentation to sharp hooks to electronic flourishes all rooted in a crunchy alt-rock foundation, +/- has the essentials in being agreeable down pat. But with all the easily digestible components and accessibility factors, what separates the band from its more experimental, ambitious and established contemporaries? Lacking a distinct sound and story, +/- seems destined for mediocrity. Let's Build a Fire is an enjoyable album, but it lacks depth and inimitability.
Throughout the album, the trio -- James Baluyut and Patrick Ramos, both former members of Versus, as well as Margaret McCartney -- attempts to bottle the grandeur of Bends-era Radiohead with the vocal style and songwriting sensibility of both Ben Gibbard projects (Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service). "Steal the Blueprints" combines a jangly, driving acoustic guitar and skittering electronic beats only to shred the mystique of its beginnings with an overbearing and earnest harmony vocal on the chorus. "This is All (I Have Left) and "Summer Dress 2 (Iodine)" both hold promise with meandering piano, skittering drums and subtle electronics, but neither track crescendos into a rewarding or inventive climax.
All over Let's Build a Fire, +/- fails to capitalize on the moments of beauty and originality by either doing too much or doing too little. The exceptions are "Fadeout" and "One Day You'll Be There," when the band members expand upon the frameworks of their sound by playing with tempo. The former perfectly blends urgent instrumentation, spacey atmospherics and vocal hooks building steam from a chugging but mild number to a churning unhinged beast of controlled noise. The latter experiments with start/stop tempo change between drums and guitar, all while developing a driving vocal melody. The track culminates with the coalescence of the instrumentation and the vocals, leading to a satisfying conclusion.
By either overplaying their hand with overkill stylistic tendency or underplaying their hand by failing to expand the groundwork of their songs into a new discovery, the members of +/- appear to either be content in creating a pleasant but unchallenging sound or unsure of how to channel experimentation without sacrificing accessibility. Both situations are problematic. They need to figure out who they are and what they want to become.
Band: http://www.plusmin.us/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/plusminusband
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