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On the Ones and Threes
Artist: Versus
Label: Merge
Time: 10 tracks/49 minutes

I have noticed that there is often a debate as to what music actually belongs in the genre "indie rock."  I've heard people refer to "emo" or "screamo" bands like My Chemical Romance and The Used as indie, and I usually find myself chuckling and/or scoffing at this since I've always viewed "indie" as more of an aesthetic than an actual genre.  Whenever someone asks me to describe what indie rock sounds like, I take them to the band I feel completely embodies the "indie" philosophy: Versus.

 Versus were arguably one of the best bands of the 90's, and the irony of that statement is found in the fact that probably ninety percent of the world has no idea who they are.  They are guitarist Richard Baluyut and bassist Fontaine Toups and a handful of various drummers represented this time around by Baluyut's brother Edward.  The band put out a few LPs and EPs on both Teen Beat and Caroline Records and then called it quits after 2000's Hurrah.  Now, ten years later, they, like so many other bands from the 90's, have returned, with what would seem to be their best release yet.

The band's sound is hard to pin down, for their influences have always been very well hidden in the dense, arty pop songs they create.  They specialize in beautiful melodies, but aren't afraid to dirty them up with explosions of gritty guitars and feedback.  They share a kinship with fellow indie rockers Yo La Tengo, but even that's not a fair comparison since in the end, the two bands sound nothing alike.

I have to admit that this is a biased review, for I have a passion for Versus that borders on idolatry, but please take my word for it that this new record is pure genius.  The record sounds like Versus, but there's an intensity behind the music that pushes it further than they've ever gone before.  As soon as the quiet opening strums of "Invincible Hero" blast off into a gritty guitar riff, you're on your way, and every song is golden.  Baluyut's plain tenor blends perfectly with Toups' airy backing vocals, as always, though when Toups takes the occasional lead, she proves she can bring the punch with the light snarl in her voice on tracks like "Scientists."

There's a lot of variety here from melodic rockers like "Into Blue" and "Cicada" to the discordant dirge rock of "Nu Skin" to the quiet pop of "Gone to Earth" and "Pink Valhalla."  While the music is amazing, Baluyut also pens some interesting and thought-provoking lyrics that show him feeling the grasp of middle age and dabbling in nihilism.  On the last track, "The Ones and Threes," he sings:

Yes I am the number thirteen
In elevator society
Why be superstitious
When we're all just specks of dust
You can't help it and I can't stop it

I'm always happy when someone realizes the hopelessness in this world, because I'm hopeful that the realization will turn them to Christ.  Of course, living in a broken world means that even people who recognize certain truths will not necessarily put their trust in the Lord.  I love the music on this record and am happy to have Versus back, but there is a definite darkness to the lyrics that may make the record a difficult listen for some.  This is highly recommended by me, but if you decide to join Versus on this musical journey, remember to take its content with a grain of biblical salt.

Eric Landfried


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