+/- performing as part of the Over The Top Festival at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Friday (May 2). $8. 416-596-1908. www.overthetopfest.com Rating: NNNNN
When versus founder richard Baluyut left New York for San Francisco – essentially putting the math rock marauders on ice – his bandmate brother James Baluyut wasted no time starting up his own project, +/-, aka Plus/Minus.
As the handle suggests, the younger Baluyut’s home start-up has carried through some of the poindexter qualities, which are particularly evident in the austere angularity of last year’s self-titled debut for Teenbeat.
With the focus on Baluyut’s piano and guitar interplay over programmed cut ‘n’ paste rhythmic structures – he calls them theoretical beats – it’s understandable why many assumed +/- was a theoretical band.
That perception changed over the past year as Baluyut emerged with a rhythm section of Versus guitarist Patrick Ramos and drummer Chris Deaner, who make the new +/- Holding Pattern EP sound more like the work of a fully functioning group.
“When my brother Richard moved away, I got a call from Mark Robinson at Teenbeat asking me if I wanted to do a record. I had various parts I’d recorded lying around, so I just fashioned them into songs. That was the first album. Then I thought this +/- project should have a live incarnation.”
They spent nine months trying to figure out how to pull the songs off live before actually performing.
“This thing where bands stand onstage looking down at the faders, turning knobs and hitting one key on a keyboard isn’t a show to me. It’s not something I’d pay to watch – why would anyone else?”
The simple, uncluttered melodicism of Baluyut’s songs will be familiar to Versus fans, but the skittering +/- rhythms are something new and encouragingly contemporary.
Just check Deaner’s off-kilter rattle on I’ve Been Lost, a swinging joint that could easily fit in a West London DJ’s broken beat set.
“Broken… what? I wouldn’t know anything about that,” confesses Baluyut.
Not that drum beater Deaner – best known for keeping time for Austin alt-country crew the Damnations – is any more likely to be up on the latest Bugz in the Attic remixes. Yet his cracking snare snap adds a welcome kick to Baluyut’s sombre ruminations nonetheless.
“When Chris gave me some of the recordings of other bands he’d worked with, none of them sounded anything like what he’s doing with us. That really impressed me. He was great at playing the straight-up rock drummer in a song-supporting role, yet he could do all this amazing off-time stuff, too.
“Nothing fazes him. Anything rhythmically strange I ask him to do, he just does it – and then throws in his own ideas. The songs always end up sounding way better than anything I could’ve dreamed up.”