Versus changed the world, but no one noticed. So, they try again. Male vocals croon like Chet Baker and female counterparts talk down with poisoned sweetness (“Gone to Earth”). The twinkles of music past have been removed, and in their place, gravel has been thrown across the guitars—darkness creeps forward and the album builds and crashes with fervor.
The first minute or so of "Invincible Hero," the opening track of the first Versus album in 10 years, presses the question: Where has Versus been all this time? A decade has passed since their last album, Hurrah, and sometimes a break isn't a bad idea, of course. Whatever the case, the core of Richard Baluyut, Fontaine Toups and returning member Edward Baluyut have emerged, 20 years after their formation, with what might be the band's best album. For longtime fans, such a declaration may be compromised by what Versus means to them, but even if 1993's The Stars Are Insane or maybe 1996's Secret Swingers seemed like indisputable peaks, On the Ones and Threes offers a perfect example of someone's second or third act being both an achievement worth recognition and a catalyst for a reevaluation of its creators' body of work.
Check out “Invincible Hero”, the opening track of the new Versus album On the Ones and Threes, and it’s hard to believe that the one-time indie stalwarts have been on hiatus for a decade. Whipping up out a whirlwind of guitar sound, then covering it with a glossy, shimmering sheen, Versus sounds as formidable as the song’s title. On par with the best of Versus’ earlier work, “Invincible Hero” is a triumphant return for a band not taking for granted that absence has made any hearts grow fonder.
When Versus first came to Merge in 1999 -- with their Afterglow EP -- they were in transition. The band's records were always expansive, but although their mid-'90s albums (including 1996's excellent Secret Swingers) had a rougher edge to them, their Merge output was a good deal more shimmering and polished. Following Afterglow, 2000's Hurrah was the most refined and wide-open power-pop the band had made yet.
They weren't as influential as Pavement, as industrious as Guided By Voices, as idiosyncratic as Unrest, or as ubiquitous as Superchunk. But the part that Versus played in the indie rock underground of the 1990s can't be overlooked. In some ways, Versus were the quintessential indie rock band. Versus' growth throughout the decade, from mawkish noise-popists beholden to their underground-approved influences (on 1993's The Stars Are Insane) to mature, reliable, genre-bounding songwriters (on 2000's Hurrah) mirrors the growth, for better or worse, of the genre as a whole.
A decade went by without so much as a peep from Versus, and the underrated indie rockers’ 2000 album seemed to be exactly what the title suggested: a last Hurrah. Sad for many, since this was a highly influential band of the ‘90s seemingly doomed to relative obscurity. Fortunately, though, ten years later in 2010, the original lineup reunited after amends were made between the Baluyut brothers Edward and Richard, who hadn’t played together since 1996’s Secret Swingers.