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+/-: Xs On Your Eyes

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+/-

Xs On Your Eyes

Rating: 2.0

Label: Absolutely Kosher

+/- have never had a sound of their own. Like many bands comprised of ’90s rock relics, their music draws heavily from what has already been done and refuses to look forward. Once expected to be a band on the verge of something great, +/-, with the release of their fourth album Xs On Your Eyes, proves that a worthwhile album continues to elude them and have produced a meandering collection of tracks interchangeable with their stagnant debut album six years ago.

Anything worth remembering from Xs On Your Eyes is heard in the opening track “Tired Eyes.” This isn’t to say “Tired Eyes” is the best song on the album; it simply embodies every idea that is to follow. From the airy digital chimes to the trebly guitars, the only song following “Tired Eyes” to diverge from the standard +/- template is the intolerable indie-country track “Marina,” which, backed by a pokey bass and generic pedal steel, tells an aquatic love story that even the most devout mermaid-lovers would have difficulty listening to in its entirety.

What is hardest to pinpoint about Xs On Your Eyes is which song has the worst lyrics. “You’ll Catch Your Death” is an obvious contender with “You’re drowning inside / While learning to fly / Succumb to the cold/You’ll catch your death / Fall through the end/With nothing to hide / No leading the blind/And fading to black.” The album is packed with these meaningless, faux-deep lyrics that fail to convey anything except that +/- has absolutely nothing to say. The final song “Flight Data Recorder” is another stunning example of aimless craftsmanship.

With Xs On Your Eyes, +/- largely avoids their go-to strategy of combining traditional instruments with digital loops. While a handful of songs start with samples or programmed drums, the majority of the album is a stripped-down three-piece sound. The result replicates Nada Surf’s 1996 release High/Low. Specifically ripping off Nada Surf’s “Treehouse” on several tracks, +/-‘s guitarist strums basic chord changes in hopes that repetition will eventually translate to catchy. No such luck. Nothing about this album registers as catchy, let alone memorable.

What must be most disappointing for +/- is how many of their contemporaries have found novelty success tinkering with the +/- formula. Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and Postal Services’ Give Up were Billboard ranked, ushered in sell-out shows and have been covered to oblivion yet, +/- have never seen a hint of that. Certainly some of that can be explained by Conor Oberst’s and Ben Gibbard’s cult following, but the majority of it rests on the fact that +/- just isn’t very good.

by Brian Loeper

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