[5 February 2014]
The name +/- (Plus/Minus) reminds me of the Spanish phrase “más o menos,” which directly translates to “more or less” in English. In case you forgot sophomore year Spanish class, it’s more often used to convey a sense of “meh.” For +/- (Plus/Minus)’s latest album, Jumping The Tracks, that seems apt. Everything about this record is perfectly serviceable. It is most certainly music, at least. It’s probably rock music, even. What do I think of this record? “Eh, más o menos.”
Let’s start with what this record gets right. Lush instrumentation arrangements abound, and the pop music mainstays of guitar, keys, bass and drums are all put to good, if familiar, use. It’s all very pensive, and some of the raw touches left in — like the count-in on the mellow “The Space Between Us” — add to a sense of craftsmanship that keeps Jumping The Tracks from feeling sterile. It’s warm, inviting, and downright bubbly in places. The criminally-underused vibraphone is heard as a delightful accent on a several tracks as well, keeping things light and bouncy.
But beautiful arrangements are marred by a total lack of purposefulness. Jumping The Tracks’ first cut is “Young Once”. It begins with guitar feedback, slowly filling out with percussion and a rolling bass line. It takes nearly 90 seconds for the first vocal line to hit — and it’s a total letdown, overly-drenched in reverb to the point of unintelligibility and surrounded by amateurish falsetto harmony. We’re made to anticipate this massive arrival, and it goes off not with a bang, but a whimper. The wind immediately comes out of the album’s sails.
Singers James Baluyut and Patrick Ramos are difficult to understand, and the lyrical snippets that can be made out do little to draw one in. My review copy didn’t come with a lyric sheet; I have no idea what’s being sung beyond the song titles. The lyric I can best make out is this trite little gem off of “Exorcising your Ghost”:
I’m still waiting for the day when / I wake up and I’m living.
I mean, come on. Ultimately, there’s just so little to grab onto that Jumping The Tracks turns into background noise. Beyond that sparkling vibraphone, you’ve heard everything on this record before in terms of songwriting. It’s indie rock at its dullest. That would be fine if a soaring, meaningful lyric were cutting through the drudgery and giving some weight to the record, but that’s absent as well. The ultimate offence is the grueling “What Lies Ahead”, which is four minutes of looped synth pads and pained falsetto that has all the momentum of a beached whale.
Okay, Jumping The Tracks really isn’t as bad as all that. And +/- (Plus/Minus) are a talented group of musicians. This record is just the one thing that a record isn’t allowed to be. This record is boring.