Review Summary: First Versa review to NOT mention Paramore… wait… ah, dammit.
“Infectious and sexy this is most certainly worth your time.” These words concluded user GaslightAnthem’s review of 2008's Perceptions
’s first EP with Sierra Kusterbeck as lead vocalist. I took the reviewer’s advice, and about a year and a half and another excellent EP later, I will open my own review of Fixed at Zero
, Versa’s full-length debut, with this very same (and still punctuation-less) tease.
If you’re among the listeners who kept up with the band’s EPs, you probably noticed the introduction of more dominant, pop-laced keyboard experimentation in their most recent release. You picked up on the strings and the emergence of guitarist Blake Harnage as an adequate (albeit uninspiring) backing vocalist. If this direction was something you embraced, then you will certainly not be disappointed by F@0
. The album is extravagantly produced, with an even heavier reliance upon strings and synth and faux-musical-mysticism that you just know came straight from the band members' twitter feeds. It’s a pleasure to listen to.
Opener “Figure It Out” teases with a goofball-ethereal harmonization that foreshadows Sierra’s dreamy choruses. Her vocal range is, at least in my opinion, what has set Versa’s records apart from most similar music. It’s not a power thing-although I do believe she is growing into her voice quite well-but rather it’s more about how she mixes styles across a song. Hence, the best songs on the album tend to be those where she’s free to ‘unleash the Vulture,’ like she does here.
The same can be said of the exceptional title track, where the band becomes a master of its own momentum. “Fixed at Zero” represents the culmination of everything Versa has been building towards-a song that is so intrinsically chaotic that you don’t know what to do with yourself while listening. “Mythology” and “Redesign Me” (the latter of which powerfully channels the band’s previous work), also indicate that Versa has grown and reaped the benefits of a more extensive and deliberate recording process.
Unfortunately, there’s another side to this story that won't allow F@0
to pass unscathed: what if you liked Perceptions
, with its powerful sweeping guitars and delightfully energetic drumwork, just a little bit more
than the band’s turn for the ambient? Even the most loyal fans cannot rationalize ‘less Anthony Green, more Bjork/Imogen Heap’ into a good thing. While the line between Versa’s post-hardcore roots and its thirst for experimentation has been tread perfectly on past releases, excessive abuse of electronic elements here has produced some troublesome inconsistency.
For example, “Fire (Aim Your Arrows High),” provides a changing pace with supercharged pop-punk transitions and trading vocals, but I can’t help thinking that the song would be served better by a little regression.
What is so wrong with writing a simple punk rock foot-tapper? The song takes off only to implode with flat vocals from Harnage and out-of-place ambient acousticism. I can appreciate changing tempos as much as the next guy, but when I think about how terrible this song will be live, it completely ruins it for me. Simplicity is not always a bad thing, especially when you have the charisma to pull it off.
Easily the worst song on the album is “Mind Reader,” which, I kid you not, sounds like one of those awkward, suffocating Lead Sails Paper Anchor
-era Atreyu songs... It's annoyingly repetitive and forced along by an extremely sterile, artificial sound. The band is struggling through its own cliché, so much so that it's tough to believe that the there wasn't at least some label interference here... the song just feels so out of place.
Luckily these moments are the exception on Fixed at Zero
, which in the end is an exceptional debut for the young trio (rounded out by bassist Devin Ingelido). If you haven’t given Versa a shot, either because pop-rock’s not your thing or you feel obligated to hate everything Fueled By Ramen touches, consider this a dare. The band is a breath of ingenuity in a pretty stale parade of warped tour schlock. Infectious and sexy this is most certainly worth your time.
Release: June 22, 2010