MAGNET Exclusive: +/- Goes Track By Track On New Album “Further Afield”

It’s been 10 long years since the last +/- album. The Brooklyn trio—vocalist/guitarists James Baluyut and Patrick Ramos and drummer Chris Deaner—has finally followed up Jumping The Tracks with the most excellent and adventurous Further Afield (Ernest Jenning). We asked the threesome to take us through the 10 tracks that make up Further Afield, and Baluyut, Ramos and Deaner were kind enough to do just that.

1) “Intentionally Left Blank”
James Baluyut:
 “Every time we start writing a new record, we try hard to sound different from our previous releases. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, it always sounds like a tweaked variation of us: Our collective sensibility invariably remains intact, and our instrumentation is roughly the same album to album. For this outing, I imagined that if we switched up the instrumentation enough, it might inspire something different in the writing. So I bought some new instruments and recorded a series of experiments while learning to play them. ‘Intentionally Left Blank’ was one of those experiments, and it consists of only two elements: synthesizer and pedal-steel guitar (which, as it turns out, hasn’t been so easy to learn). I intended to sing something over the top of it, but Chris wisely encouraged me to leave it as is. I think it sets the mood really well.”

2) “Borrowed Time”
 “‘Borrowed Time’ was the first thing I came up with after bringing home a new synthesizer. Like a kid in a candy store, I was trying out all of the available features and came upon this strange, watery, warbly sound. The chord progression and melody followed fairly quickly. Chris came up with a series of double-time drumbeats, and we decided on a drum treatment reminiscent of ’90s drum ‘n’ bass. Patrick added a brilliantly manic guitar, and we were off to the races. Fun fact: No bass guitar on this one—just some massive 808 kick drums tuned to the root notes. The lyrics deal with dysfunctional relationships and the emotional toll of built-up resentment. Dark stuff … On the other hand, the music’s pretty fun!”

3) “Gondolier”
 “My son was playing around with a little beat-making keyboard and came up with the initial loop of this song. I never would have come up with that part, so, in the spirit of sounding different, it made sense to make a song out of it. There was something poetic about my son handing this loop back to me and inspiring me after I showed him how to use a keyboard. In turn, I wanted to elaborate on it and give it back to him. This got me thinking about how the relationship between parents and children is reciprocal: You’re teaching them, and simultaneously, they’re teaching you about yourself. The lyrics explore this idea—along with the bittersweet notion that you’re always preparing your children to leave you. Fun fact: It took me hours to get a reasonable take of the singing-saw part during the final section (another instrument that hasn’t been so easy to learn). Chris was unfortunately engineering that recording. Oops! Sorry, Chris!”

Chris Deaner: “The initial recording had me playing the drum kit for the entire song. When we decided to make the middle section exclusively electronic, we transformed each hit from the initial analog-drum performance into midi notes that triggered drum-machine-like samples. The result is something less repetitive and conventional than a programmed loop.”

4) “Driving Aimlessly (Redux)”
Patrick Ramos:
 “In the suburbs, when you obtain your license, driving around with no particular destination listening to music loudly is a rite of passage. Taking in the landscape through car windows can feel like watching your own film. This is an ode to that and the particular kind of lonely, romantic, adolescent longing to connect with someone to join you on the ride.”

Deaner: “When my grandfather was in his late 80s, I asked him to record the story of his life on a cassette tape for me. I loved the content and sonic quality of the recording, but could never figure out where it would fit best. The combination of Patrick’s lyrics and the amorphous outro on this song seemed like the perfect place for his story about the first date with my grandmother driving around central Pennsylvania.”

5) “Where I Hope We Get Lost”
 “The piano on this was recorded with a phone while visiting my parents. The same piano I played as a teenager, which for me now is like a conduit to my younger self in that I tend to write stylistically as I did at that age, in a way that I’m less likely elsewhere. This one stood out to me as particularly wistful. So with a simple standard structure, I recorded one imperfect take for memory to bring back to our Brooklyn studio. Our first approach was more experimental than straightforward and didn’t really go anywhere. To make headway on the LP, we set up a makeshift studio at a house in Saratoga Springs for four days. The front parlor/music room—with its high ceiling and wood floors, empty but for a grand piano—was perfect as a live room. We set up the drums there and pressed record. Listening in the control room when Chris started in with the beat was stunning. Using only a four-mic setup (kick, snare, stereo rooms), the drums gave it the complexion and lift it needed to be straightforward and provided an emotional arc. There was something inspiring and exciting about the whole thing for me, and that parlor room with its natural reverb brought it out.”

6) “The Pull From Both Sides”
 “I remember James and Patrick troubleshooting an issue in the control room while I was behind the kit waiting to record. To pass the time, I started tinkering around with random quiet beats. I played the side of the floor tom and rim of the snare and lightly pedaled the beater against the kick drum, which I normally don’t do. I had my headphones on and the room mics were still live, so I continued to mess with the sound and grew to like it. When the issue was resolved, I recorded that part, and while the idea was fresh, I put a louder part on top of the quieter one allowing them two to play off each other.”

Baluyut: “A song built from Chris’ initial beats. I cut up some guitar randomly, fashioned a long glitchy loop out of it and paired that loop with the drums. The result felt otherworldly. The song took off from there.”

Ramos: “We usually mix our own records but thought it might be a good idea to bring in someone with a different perspective. We sent this one to the talented Ray Ketchem at Magic Door Recording to see what he would do. He killed it! He mixed and mastered the whole album. We’ve never sounded better.” 

7) “Calling Off The Rescue”
 “There’s a unique collective despair when a search-and-rescue is called off. It’s palpable. I thought it might be compelling as a warning or plea in a song about neglect. Who says we’re no fun? It’s still pretty upbeat, though it has a certain tension that builds. But then it takes off in the last chorus when Chris drops the beat and the tension releases. The track also features a recording of my daughter’s former high-school treble choir. At James’ suggestion, we sampled it, chopped it up, pitch-shifted and added it to the chorus. Her treble choir now sounds more baritone, but it adds an element of ceremony that I think works well. And I love that she and I are on a song together.”

8) “Contempt”
 “Conceived on the same beat-making keyboard as ‘Gondolier,’ this one harkens back to the rock/electronic hybrids of the ’80s. In the past, we rejected a whole host of songs because they sounded too similar to other bands. On this record, our influences … well they’re not exactly being worn on our sleeves, but they’re at least showing through the shirt a bit.”

Deaner: “For this one, as I was writing my part and preparing to record it, James had a request: ‘When you play the beat, make it sound like it’s difficult to play.’ Luckily, I had injured my back and neck earlier in the week, so the takes really were a struggle.”

Ramos: “I bought a vintage Hagstrom II some 20-plus years ago and used it on our first tour for only a few shows before breaking a string and, unbeknownst to me until the next town, losing its accompanying bridge saddle. I didn’t bother to replace the saddle until the lockdown, but because of that, I discovered that it’s a great guitar for single string parts like this homage to Peter Hook and New Order.”

9) “Redrawn”
 “I’ve always been drawn to repetitive, hypnotic songs. This one’s dreamy but also a bit poppy. The rhythm section mesmerizes while the guitars and keyboards keep you afloat. A song about being lost at sea.”

Deaner: “Embrace The Groove”

Gloria Estefan (+ Patrick): “The rhythm is gonna get you.”

10) “Is It Over Now”
 “Late on our last night in Saratoga Springs, as James and Chris were recording overdubs, I played around on a synthesizer. The last LP (2014’s Jumping The Tracks) leaned heavily into longer intros, and the song lengths reflect that. In contrast, I wanted to write something short, stark and quiet but didn’t think much of it. As we were packing instruments, but before breaking down the control room, James asked to hear what I came up with. He listened and suggested we quickly record the synth and a scratch vocal before taking everything down for the drive back to the city.”

Baluyut: “I love that this is 90% intact from the initial idea. It sounds effortless, intuitive and concise. Shepherding it the rest of the way was just a matter of maintaining restraint and not overcomplicating it.”

Deaner: “I think that we might have managed to create a song that sounds completely unique in our catalog.”