Fixed At Zero

Written by: DR on 28/09/2010 19:44:53

Any female-fronted band resembling anything close to pop/rock will instantly draw comparisons with Paramore. VersaEmerge are no exception. Fans of VE will insist they deserve to be taken without the yardstick of Paramore next to them, however, such an argument may hold greater credence if it wasn't for the road they have taken since their second EP "Perceptions", first with current female vocalist Sierra; at the time of that release they were unsigned, but had a strong following nonetheless that most-likely overlapped with other alternative/experimental bands such as Secret And Whisper or maybe even Circa Survive, such was their sound. Soon after they signed to Fueled By Ramen (Paramore's label), and with their third, self-titled EP, they sought a different, more pop-y, sound which opened up another fan base altogether. But I digress.

"Fixed At Zero" is the debut full-length, the one that really matters if they are to fully announce themselves. Being an avid follower of this band since I fell in love with "Perceptions", the first thing of interest to me was what it sounds like. Not how good/bad it is, but what sound are they aiming for? They have progressed since their last output, by which I mean they've taken that sound a step further. They've all but removed any trace of their roots, and replaced it with what is in some ways a pop band. Those uber-impressive, intricate, ambient guitar melodies are no more; in their place? Electronics masquerading as theatrics. Progression, in theory, is never a bad thing, but VersaEmerge have changed their sound, and for the most part it feels sudden, drastic even, and ultimately not a comfortable fit for them.

Beneath Sierra's stunning vocals and the theatrics is simple musicianship. Blake Harnage, guitar/vocals/programming has probably spent more time 'programming', whatever the hell that actually means, and less time with a guitar in hand. VersaEmerge did used to have a second guitarist, Jerry Pierce, so it is entirely plausible Blake isn't as good a guitarist, and the 'programming' is an attempt to compensate, hence how much less-complicated it all is now.

You may be reading this thinking I'm doing this young band a disservice, but at times they seem and sound so utterly aimless - and boring, which is worse. The opening four songs pass making little note-worthy impression, other than that of 'damn, Sierra has some serious pipes'. "Stranger" offers something to intrigue, with an acoustic opening complimenting Sierra's whisper well, then everything picks up, except now with a low-dissonant buzz in the background. It doesn't work, like, at all, but it finally has your attention. They capitalise on this well, with "Redesign Me", "Fire (Aim Your Arrows High)", "Up There" and "Your Own Love" all of which have one thing in common, they combine their atmospherics with pop rock sensibilities and solid choruses, and as a result it all sounds thicker and stronger. Even their theatrics sound astute and well thought-out. Final track "Lost Tree" begins quiet enough, yet so obviously preparing for a build-up, which collides into an 'epic' finish. The first few minutes are good enough, but after the watershed moment of the climax it loses it way, reciting lyrics from the previous songs on the album; it all seems kind of desperate.

VersaEmerge have potential though, and kudos to them for trying to offer something new, but just because it's slightly new it doesn't mean it's interesting, or even good. However, the interesting thing is that when they stop trying to be so unusual, they incorporate their unique perspective with the pop/rock band they so obviously are becoming, they are genuinely good. Furthermore, in Sierra Kusterbeck they possess a vocalist who must be all of 19, yet she has already shown tremendous growth in her relatively short time as a front-woman, and she is only going to get better and better, and will inevitably become one of the best around. “Fixed At Zero“ is worth your time because of her performance at least.


Download: Your Own Love, Fire (Aim Your Arrows High)
For The Fans of: Hey Monday, Panic! At The Disco, All Time Low, Chiodos
Listen: Myspace

Release Date 22.06.2010
Fueled By Ramen

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