Since its founding in the mid-1980s, the Teenbeat label has had its headquarters in an unprepossessing red-brick building off a drab, hard-on-its-heels suburban strip in Clarendon, Virginia, a few minutes' drive across the Potomac River from Washington.
Clarendon is not a cool place, which is why it's such an appropriate location for the label. The bands on its roster are filled with the cerebral, V-neck, sweater-wearing types who, before Weezer came along and made dorkiness cool in the early 1990s, probably had their army-issue glasses stomped upon regularly by the football players in high school.
They were Unrest, Versus, Uncle Wiggly, Eggs, Cath Carol, Air Miami, Toscadero and a few others mostly from the Washington area. Many of them incestuously traded band members who wanted to branch out into new styles under new guises. For the most part, they made quirky, unpretentious, guitar-based rock that was played to a few dozen prim-looking budding hipsters in cafes and tiny clubs up the street from the label's office.
Not much has changed at Teenbeat it seems. In another case of its bands fractioning off to begin new projects, James Baluyut and Patrick Ramos of Versus created +/- (plus/minus) in 2001 with drummer Chris Deaner and began making the doleful guitar-driven tunes Versus made its name on, but this time pepped up with some electronic blips and percussion -- and even a few fart noises.
Versus in the mid-1990s was America's answer to My Bloody Valentine for its morbid melodies and moments of thundering distortion squeezed between murmured verses. +/- certainly bears these hallmarks, but luckily for them, its music is more than this.
Their new album You Are Here is an extravagant mash of styles that from track to track has you reaching for the volume knob. You'll want to crank the frenetic tracks like Trapped Under Ice Floes (redux) and then drop it to a whisper and curl into a corner for Summer Dress. Other tracks, like She's Got Your Eyes or Walk in a Straight Line are reminiscent of Sea and Cake's jazzier, experimental electro moments, but the classically rock elements to +/- remain clear.
Though it's a bold comparison, the one that mostly aptly fits is to post-The Bends Radiohead, when they realized they could make musical magic from pretty much any knob twist or additional, rain-damaged instrument.
But despite the odd time signatures of many of their songs, +/- slip in enough standard 4/4 fare and slow hummable melodies to let their sound flirt with what might be called folk.
This kind of wanton genre bending has helped make +/- one of the most ballyhooed bands of indie America. Now, after finally being released in Taiwan through White Wabbit Records, +/- is coming to Taipei next Tuesday on an Asian tour that will see them playing in Japan for the rest of the month.
What: +/- with guests Hindsight 20/20
Where: The Wall, B1, 200 Roosevelt Rd, Sec 4, Taipei
When: Tuesay, 8:30pm
Tickets: NT$650 at the door, or NT$550 in advance at White Wabbit Records located at The Wall.