Elusive, yet slathering nostalgia for +/-

Usually I have a hard time listening to the studio recording of a band whose show I have just witnessed in action. This is totally not the case for the Brooklyn-based Plus/Minus {or alternatively represented by “+/-”}. +/- passed through Washington DC’s yet-to-be-gentrified northeast district last night on their mini-tour with Moools from Japan. The electro pop/rock band’s set at the Rock and Roll Hotel left me with an elusive yet slathering nostalgia.

+/- played a set of songs from their last two albums. What still linger in my head are their sophisticatedly crafted guitar feedback, a jagged reference of Cocteau Twin; their mechanistic “swing,” closer to a drum machine than a live jazz drummer; and their Gen-X earnesty, presented onstage and offstage. Noisey effects spread within a well-defined form. Precisely accented sixteenth-notes of the guitar and drums fall rather unexpectedly in moments of structured stasis. The acoustic, analog and digital ebbs and flows of +/-’s music make up a clever design balancing structure and freedom.

To a music geek like me, there is endless (and shameless) pleasure in counting the number of accents (e.g. crash cymbal strikes) in a sequence of similarly structured measures in +/- songs. Yet in counting, mirroring, or even measuring the beat, one could find a greater bliss of getting lost or letting go.

My friend and I found ourselves craving for engaging vocal gestures. And secretly, I wanted more metrical precision. Maybe the sparsely occupied black theater box absorbed some of the vocal sounds. Unfortunately, it was a slow night which, according to James and Patrick, is kind of a fluke considering their recent sold-out show at the venue. Despite that, +/- played a generous set in front of lovingly engaged audience members. As with many others in the room, I indulged myself by allowing my body to bounce between boldly contrasting dynamics, metrical breakdowns, and instrumental timbres. Between the push and pull, movement and stasis, we discovered a degree of subjective freedom subjecting ourselves in +/-’s no-more-no-less sonic envelope.

Maybe the late-summer Virginian haze or my general sleep deprivation is messing up my perceptual faculty responsible for the distinction between past and present, forward and backward. Voraciously I’m listening to all the +/- recordings available to me right now I write this document. Their recordings make me yearn for more live +/- action, vice versa. I still can’t quite put my fingers on what this means. What seems certain is that memories of a live +/- performance and the constant playback of their recordings make a cycle of dream, bliss, nostalgia.

Maybe the +/- sound is indicative of our time. My sentiments of nostalgia may be a near-obsession for the recently bygone time of the 1990s. As someone in her (really-)late-twenties, I pontificate about the meanings of this sound based on my evoked memories of youth associated with grunge and alternative rock. +/-'s musical ecology marks the beauty and transience of time.

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