Record Review 

Rumor around Washington, D.C. is that Mark Robinson wouldn't sign anyone to his Teen Beat label that was better than Robinson's own band, Unrest. That is, until he signed Versus. Versus have since amicably parted ways with Teen Beat and the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based indie Merge couldn't have picked them up at a better time. With their fourth album, Hurrah, these New York scenesters have stepped out from behind Sonic Youth's squall of sounds to deliver a pop album perfectly balanced, walking the tightrope of Versus' male-female tug-of-war.

The songs on Hurrah wax and wane between fuzz wash and clean tone, both freshly-pressed. Richard Baluyat and Fontaine Toups trade verses with a confidence somewhere between Ray Davies and a "Blue Jean"-era Bowie; the brief image of a figure perched atop a white stool, long wand of a microphone in hand, acoustic guitar placed to one side, does not seem out of place. It's no surprise Hurrah feels so familiar. Versus shares the very Pavement-esque ability to rip classic jangly riffs without sounding desperately derivative.

And there's equal space on Hurrah for both Versus' calmer influences and their thrashier impulses. Over the first two tracks, Versus plugs in the dischord and receives a heavy charge. By "Eskimo," the drummer is momentarily traded for a drum machine and a sound like puréed beats in a blender. Then the onslaught abruptly halts for the chiming, charming "Play Dead," made all the more sugary by lightly vocoded back-up vocals. Songs like "Said Too Much" feature the tornado tremelo of mid-90s Versus, while "Frederick's of Hollywood" shows the band, often compared to Sonic Youth, taking on SY's Goo-era with aplomb.

Whether sweet or sour, Versus, their pop songs stripped bare of excess, have the last Hurrah.

Versus play Sat., Sept. 23rd at the Variety Playhouse


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