Maybe it's the fact that they're on Chapel Hill's Merge Records, maybe it's the boy/girl vocal interplay, maybe it's their celebrated and seemingly endless back catalogue of EPs and singles, maybe it's their penchant for happy melodies and verbal knife-twisters like "We don't have to pretend we're married/But we like the company" -- maybe it's any one of these elements or all of them in tandem, but I can't listen to Hurrah, the new album by New York-based Versus, without thinking of Superchunk's Tossing Seeds compilation.
That's unfair, of course. Versus calls that seminal band to mind because, like Superchunk, the group falls somewhere between alt-punk's driving fuzztones and pop's hook-driven composition style. Furthermore, Versus is a tight and intuitive unit, having been together now in some formation or another for nigh unto a decade. Mainstay members Richard Baluyut and Fontaine Toups (guitar and bass) have honed themselves into an accomplished give-and-take combo, trading off melodic lines and vocals like it's second nature, which by this point it might well be. Guitarist James Baluyut and drummer Pat Ramos fill out an ensemble that, when it's working at peak efficiency (as on the delightful "My Adidas" and "Play Dead"), spins out creative and crafty tunes without a trace of pretense.
Also worth mentioning is Baluyut's voice, a sweet and controlled thing that nails the melody every time, even when the instruments are consciously flailing. Hearing this thread of perfect pitch run throughout the controlled chaos on the album is one of the great pleasures of Hurrah, an album that contains many pleasurable moments besides that one. Among the wittiest cuts are "Frederick's of Hollywood," a dark recitative that recalls Mission of Burma's "Academy Fight Song"; and "I Love the WB," a good-natured dis, easy to fall in love with on the strength of the title alone, but a terrific track when taken as a big, rollicking whole.
To speak too directly of Hurrah's many merits would be to give away too much of the effect of hearing it yourself for the first time, with no advance warning; left hook-right cross lyrical combinations, achingly pretty melodies and good-groove percussion make this one of the season's more creative alt-whatever releases, one you should really come to on your own. Suffice to say Versus is a thinker's band, and Hurrah is an album that rewards close attention; it's witty and tight and memorable all at once. And without a hint of bombast, it somehow draws your concentration so that after about a half-hour, you realize you've been doing nothing but paying attention. It's hard to come up with a higher endorsement than that.
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