Album of the Day: Versus, “Ex Voto”

With Ex Voto, Versus deliver their first full-length since 2010—and it’s one of the most exciting and surprising indie rock records of the year. Not bad for a band about to enter their third decade.

The trio of road-tested, time-tested indie lifers call Ex Voto a “sci-fi concept album,” though the specifics are a little hazy—something to do with reincarnation and time travel. And there are more than a few fantastical flourishes; “Gravity,” the ominous album opener, sports some glammy robot vocals, and “Mummified,” with its spooky, Queensryche-ian samples, offers, “Before we were mummified / We thought we had nowhere to hide.”

“Moon Palace” is so pretty and precise, it sounds like the New Pornographers scoring a YA dystopian film (perhaps one about making your own destiny, overthrowing the government, etc). “Atmosphere” is similarly brash and far-out: “I want to be free from history / Orbit, inner space, floating peacefully.” Cue the random radio snippets, the spacey licks, the general sci-fi noisemaking.

Despite its otherworldly concerns, Ex Voto is very much a Versus record, full of catchy choruses, alternating male and female vocals, and jangly licks—but everything feels brighter and bolder. Fontaine Toups’s voice has a muscle-y, nothing-left-to-prove swagger, and Richard Baluyut’s guitar is as supple and precise as ever.

If there’s a single dull moment on Ex Voto, it’s the first half of “Re-Animator”—but the second half of that song more than makes up for it. That’s when the threadbare vocals and canned beat get swapped for righteous cymbal-crashing, an arena-rock riff, and another sing-along refrain. Once the shredding starts, any trace of disappointment quickly evaporates.

-Patrick Rapa

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