+/- : Let’s Build A Fire

For a long time, independent releases have been weighted with the tags that they lacked various forms of quality. Either they were too lo-fi, the singing was sub-par, the bands couldn’t play their instruments, and there was no production value. The last ten years in independent music alone have nearly made that unfair assumption vanish as each stereotype has been soundly trounced by an increasing barrage of quality indie releases. One of the finest examples of a band that defies every unfair indie tag is + / – out of New York. Let’s Build a Fire is their third album, their first for Absolutely Kosher, and another stunning achievement in music, independent or otherwise.

The title track opens the album in a way that might confuse some listeners. With a crackle of a dropped record needle, the resulting static and old-time horns begins, before resulting in a fuller explosion of sound during the second verse. This track tells the story of the rest of the album. In it, you hear James Baluyut’s spectacular voice, backed by his and Patrick Ramos’ intense guitar harmonies and the absolutely sick drumming of Chris Deaner. + / – ups the ante with “Steal the Blueprints,” a seemingly perfect mix of Postal Service beats and Rilo Kiley melody. Drummer Chris Deaner even made a video of the song that ended up winning an San Diego Asian American Film Festival Award, a video that found the trio air-performing the incredibly catchy tune while the New York crowds behind them sped by. “The Important Thing is To Love” shares similarities with Elliott Smith’s more contemplative tracks, which, obviously, are his best, while “Thrown into the Fire” finds a male / female vocal duet that again recalls the Postal Service.

“Summer Dress 2 (Iodine)” is somewhat a sequel to a song off their last album, “Summer Dress 1 (All Her Winter Clothes).” It has a delicate and almost classical piano line running throughout with pastoral acoustic guitars and beautiful vocal harmonies. It’s definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album. The strings in “Ignoring All the Detours” again provide a depth and dimension to this trio’s song collection, and again, Chris Deaner shows off his drumming muscle with some absolutely incredible fills. “One Day You’ll Be There” combines a modern soft-voiced method with the hard rock sounds of the ’90s, like a soft rock version of a Helmet song. And I mean that in the best way possible. “Leap Year” is another standout track, and one of four songs written by guitarist Patrick Ramos. Everything comes together in this song, with hyper-kinetic drums, hypnotic guitars and enticing vocals. The slow breakdown and build-up rivals even some of the more dramatic songs by former tourmates Death Cab for Cutie. The song is definitely a show-stopper.

+ / – are seemingly redefining indie one mathematical symbol at a time. They go by {Plus / Minus}, but in the spirit of Chk Chk Chk, could really be called Cross Slash Dash. The combination of symbols is usually meant to signify the possible variance in statistical figures such as polling percentages, but there’s no variance of quality on Let’s Build a Fire. The album is a pop gem in every sense, from the old-time radio opener to the near symphonic brilliance of closer, “For You.” Although some might bemoan the fate of their beloved lo-fi scratchy favorites, I for one am glad to see bands like + / – stretching the boundaries of what it means to be independent.

Similar Albums:
The Postal Service – Give Up
Irving – Death in the Garden, Blood on the Flowers
The Stills – Without Feathers

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