• Versus
  • Let's Electrify! EP (Remora) 1993 
  • The Stars Are Insane (Teenbeat) 1994 
  • Dead Leaves (Teenbeat) 1995 
  • Deep Red EP (Teenbeat) 1996 
  • Secret Swingers (Teenbeat / Caroline) 1996 
  • Two Cents Plus Tax (Caroline) 1998 
  • Afterglow EP (Merge) 1999 
  • Drawn and Quartered EP (Insound) 2000 
  • Hurrah (Merge) 2000 
  • Shangri-La EP (Merge) 2000 
  • Containe
  • I Want It All EP (Enchanté) 1994 
  • Only Cowards Walk Like Cowards (Enchanté) 1997 
  • French
  • French EP (Bear) 1996 
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Birds Don't Think They're Flying (Enchanté) 1998 
  • Less Than the Needle, More Than the Shotgun (Enchanté) 2000 
  • So Beautiful and Cheap and Warm (Teenbeat) 2002 
  • +/-
  • Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album (Teenbeat) 2002 
  • Holding Patterns EP (Teenbeat) 2003 
  • As Seen on Television (Japan. &) 2004 
  • You Are Here (Teenbeat) 2004 
  • Let's Build a Fire (Japan. &) 2005  (Absolutely Kosher) 2006 
  • +/- / Bloodthirsty Butchers
  • Bloodthirsty Butchers vs +/- (Japan. Columbia) 2005  (Teenbeat) 2007 
  • The Fontaine Toups
  • TFT (Teenbeat) 2004 
  • Whysall Lane
  • Whysall Lane (Blackball) 2006 
  • Flower
  • Concrete (Bear) 1988 
  • Hologram Sky (Ger. Semaphore) 1990 
  • Concrete Sky (1987 – 1990) (Bear / Simple Machines) 1994 

Although the basic sound of Versus was close enough to textbook alternapop that you’d be none too surprised to see its photo illustrating the term in a 21st-century cultural encyclopedia, the New York trio usually did enough with those generic ingredients to merit a second listen. Using Mission of Burma’s angular guitar attack as a blueprint, the band’s debut EP works up ample tension — much of which comes from the skittering interplay between bassist Fontaine Toups and drummer Ed Baluyut, but the only real release comes during “That Girl Is Gone,” where Toups’ sugary vocals stretch across brother Richard Baluyut’s jagged guitar lines like cotton candy skewered on a length of barbed wire.

On The Stars Are Insane, Versus takes fuller advantage of the trio format’s biggest benefit — fewer notes to get in the way. Opening with “Thera,” wherein the guitar enunciates with typical rigor over a Factory Records-like sheen, the album settles into a mid-tempo drift that’s as seductively luxurious as a soak in a hot spring. Toups’ vocal turns, like the sweet-and-sour “Circle,” are still more involving than Richard Baluyut’s sing-song recitations. He manages to summon up a modicum of emotion on the chiming “Deseret,” but the guitarist usually sounds so uninvolved that he might as well be reading from a microbiology text. Dead Leaves collects some B-sides and outtakes from 1992 and ’93, including a handful from the band’s experiments as a four-piece. While “Venus Victoria” and “Tin Foil Star” burble agreeably, most of this should have remained in the vaults.

Another Baluyut brother (littlest sibling James) joined the band on guitar in late ’95, and his contributions to the five-song Deep Red (and the full-length Secret Swingers) make it clear that he wasn’t just added to the lineup to maintain familial accord. The fuller sound works to the benefit of songs like the swooning “Shooting Star” and accentuates Toups’ vocals exquisitely on the ballad “Lost Time.”

When Ed bowed out of Versus he was replaced with Patrick Ramos. The resulting Two Cents Plus Tax is the band’s shot at the big time. With Smashing Pumpkins as an era reference point (notably the production, assisted by Kurt Ralske), the ringing structures are forward-facing and tighter. Compared to the forlorn Secret Swingers (whose memorable track is the closer, “A Heart Is a Diamond”), it’s a joyous affair containing several of Versus’ best tracks. Using power subtly, it hits a sonic G-spot with weaving riffs (“Atomic Kid”), exclamatory arpeggios (“Dumb Fun”) and frothy build-up ballads (“Crazy Maker”). Toup’s vocals find key usage in “Morning Glory” (check out the purposely disharmonic mid-section). Lyrics brood inwardly over situational dystopias (“Stay inside your room for days / Wallow in a solipsistic daze,” from “Underground”) and near-future shock. “Jack and Jill” features some great guitar playing and an asymmetrical rhythmic pattern, which would be a feature of +/-.

The Afterglow EP fills a corner suggested by Two Cents. “Crashing the Afterglow” is a majestic, slow-building wander through shoegaze territory. Four more satisfying compositions alternate between Richard and Fontaine.

Though not without its rewards, Hurrah relies less on a pop-hook matrix, focusing instead on polished indie rock ballads. Silly opener “Adidas” should have been relegated to a B-side, but the rest is better: the riff-rock/synthetic blend of “Eskimo” (presaging +/-), the country-ish “The Spell You’re Under” and the experimental “Frederick’s of Hollywood.” “I Love the WB” works best, revisiting the Versus trademark sonic jangle.

The Shangri-La EP is a preview of “Shangri-La” (from Hurrah) plus three thematic covers, two with that title (ELO and Kinks) and the Shangri-Las’ “Out in the Street.” The Drawn and Quartered EP consists of a solo track from each. Richard’s “Office Rocker” finds a comfortably repetitive groove, while Fontaine’s “You Should Call Me” exhibits her pretty vocals. Patrick sticks closer to the band’s established sound, but James’ contribution could have flown in from the West Coast.

After eldest brother Richard actually moved to the Bay Area, Patrick Ramos and James Baluyut continued recording as +/- (also spelled +/- {plus/minus} and pronounced “plus minus”), befuddling bin stockers. Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album explores lighter pop with wider variation than Versus. After two spacey intro tracks, “The Queen of Detroit” defines the mood with complex percussion rhythms and interesting time signatures (several tracks are in 5/4, giving the band a math-emo tag). Polite, occasionally distorted and dense, laptop pop.

James and Patrick are joined on You Are Here by inventive drummer Chris Deaner and a variety of bassists. It’s better than the debut, with tracks that are more fleshed out; the well-executed pop “Surprise!” is the highlight. “Scarecrow,” another good one, typifies the +/- pattern of soft passages alternating with crashing sections. Holding Patterns contains the excellent “Trapped Under Ice Floes” (later remixed for You Are Here) plus four others. As Seen on Television is a compilation of odds, ends and alternate mixes.

With Versus on hiatus, +/- became a full working band, prompting a blend of laptop with indie rock. Cool. Let’s Build a Fire opens with the title track’s well-executed, big-band morphing conceit. “Fadeout” uses tricky 5/4 time to build to a short crescendo of intricate noise. “Steal the Blueprints” acknowledges lovable elements of ’70s pop. Each track shows an entertaining improvement (“‘Ignoring Detours”) and the effort to forge various sonic identities. The project fully brings +/- out from the shadow of being a side-project. The US version differs by several tracks.

Pacific Ocean is Connie Lovatt (ex-Alkaline) aided by Ed Baluyut and drummer Steve Pilgrim. Over the course of three albums that are alternately bombastic and bland (“Duet,” “Adam’s Song”), the songs vary from agreeable indie-strum to twee pop (“I’m Part of Everything”) that’s almost saved when Ed’s guitar roars in (“If I Could Fall,” “Fantastic Trip”). “Two Twenty” (from Birds Don’t Think They’re Flying) is fine Breeders-influenced indie pop.

In The Fontaine Toups, she is joined by Andy Cheung (guitar) and John Sullivan (drums). “Who Told You” is a power-pop winner. The likable “Spector,” “Nico” and “Shoegazer” all live up to the descriptions of their titles. The overall impression is more Chrissie Hynde (“You Should Call,” “TFT”) than riot grrrl; the songs work best when they are brassier than Versus. Not all of it is good (“Sunshine Brighter”) but there’s enough to please fans of Toups’ compositions in Versus.

After re-locating to San Francisco (effectively putting Versus in mothballs), Richard formed Whysall Lane with drummer Adam Pfahler (ex-Jawbreaker) and female bassist Mikel Delgado (ex-Little Deaths, Cinnamon Imperials). Sharing vocals with Mikel, the sound resembles Versus at times (“Time Machine”) but mostly comes off as relatively low-key, with a decidedly West Coast vibe. Versus’ guitar sound informs the best tracks (“The Way Back,” “Watts”) but “Half Life” is the best representation of the new elements. “Wither Without You” is arena rock (vaguely BOC), “During the Mutiny” sounds like the Bay Area has made Richard a fan of Cali soft rock, and “Theme” is dark and slow (“What’s in a name? / It’s Whysall Lane”). Using the same interactive ruse as several Versus releases, backing up from the first track reveals a bonus song.

Before forming Versus, both Richard and Ed Baluyut played guitar (Richard also sang) in the bracing, textured and not dissimilar-sounding Flower. Both of the quartet’s albums are collected in full on Concrete Sky, with the non-LP compilation track “Concrete” added. Flower bassist Ian James went on to play guitar in Cell; after that group ended, he formed a loud pop trio, French, with Flower drummer Andrew Bordwin.

Containe was a Toups-led side project that makes the most of the concord between her poignant voice — particularly on the swoon-worthy “Tired Eyes” — and the sweeter tones of collaborator Connie Lovatt. While slightly too tranquil for its own good, I Want It All does have its share of restorative qualities.

[Deborah Sprague / Jay Pattyn]

See also: Cell