Welcome back to the Rock Show, where it’s all about the music. Today I’ll be looking at an album that I considered one of the best of 2010, Fixed at Zero, by a band that I’ve ranked as one to watch: VersaEmerge. While they might come across as a Paramore rip-off on first listen, there is a lot of difference between the bands. While Paramore tends to keep things upbeat, VersaEmerge’s Fixed at Zero takes a dark turn and conjures up some creepy images. As a debut album, I’d certainly say it leaves an impression, and it certainly leaves me wondering what’s going to come next.
“Figure It Out” is the album’s opener. It doesn’t really have an ‘opener’ vibe to me, but that doesn’t stop it from being a good introduction to the album. What you get in this song is essentially what to expect from the rest of the album. It has a bit of darkness to it, and the vocals fit the music very well. The vocal melodies here leave a little to be desired, but that does get remedied in other tunes on the album. All in all it’s a fairly decent tune. The next song, however, is really great. “Mind Reader” showcases the band’s ability to put together catchy songs while still retaining a darker tone. The song flows well, and the contrast between the cleaner tone of the verses and the louder, distorted chorus works to keep the song interesting.
The third track is “Fixed at Zero,” the single of the album, and it opens big. The guitar here is very well done, and the vocals really shine on this one, namely during the verses. The bridge section shows off some musical creativity – nothing that pushes the envelope, but it shows the talent of the drummer and adds some dynamics to the song. “You’ll Never Know” is next, and it starts off quiet and slow but with enough of a hook to keep you interested. When the song does eventually break it features some well-crafted, catchy vocal melodies. The song works well by continuing the theme of catchy hooks and good vocal melodies but keeping the dynamics interesting and not becoming too formulaic – that’s not an easy balancing act.
“Stranger” opens with some acoustic guitar and really great vocal work. After the intro the song quickly gains momentum, and falls into place among the other songs on the album. It stays different enough to be distinctive, namely the chorus vocal hooks, but similar enough that there’s no stark difference between it and the other songs. The bridge gets really interesting. “Redesign Me” is the next track on the album, and it really showcases Sierra’s vocal capabilities. The song blends the creepy background synth sounds that are sparsely scattered throughout the album with the heavy guitars very well, and it really makes this song stand out as one of the best on the album.
The next track is “Fire (Aim Your Arrows High),” and it explodes right off the bat. Following is a surprising twist – male vocals with an off-beat drum track and synth sounds. Sierra returns in the chorus for one of the best vocal melodies on the album. The bridge also pounds with intensity. The sheer power of the chorus and bridge and the change in arrangement in the verses makes this one of the most memorable songs on the album, and certainly one of the top tracks. “Up There” is next, opening with a consistently creepy and soft piano part behind an equally creepy vocal melody. The song breaks after a minute or so and returns to the essential sound of the album. The song fits well with the overall mood of the album, but aside from the beginning it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. That doesn’t mean it’s forgettable – the chorus is theatrical and pulled off well, which is certainly enjoyable.
The next track is “Your Own LoVE,” which from the very beginning makes me think of the Incubus song “Rogues” from Light Grenades. Like “Up There,” the song doesn’t really break new ground. That’s not to say it’s formulaic – it actually has a good bit of dynamic to it, but nothing that other songs haven’t done yet. There are some male vocals, a fairly explosive chorus, a pounding bridge, etc. If I had to pick one song to be most forgettable it’d be this one, but it isn’t bad for what it is. “Mythology” is the next track, and this one is really good. Opening with some synth and heavy guitars (at least, it sounds like synth) it creates a new atmosphere right away. The verses have good melodies that flow well into choruses filled to the brim with vocal hooks. Sierra’s voice is top notch in this song, and the songwriting here is potentially the best on the album. The bridge slows things down and then builds back up again to the last chorus, and then everything stops and gets creepy again with outro piano and synth that fits the atmosphere perfectly.
“Lost Tree” closes the album out, and it opens surprisingly upbeat. The guitar and vocals abandon the darker tone of the album for a more straightforward acoustic approach. This complements the rest of the album fairly well as it provides a change of style that’s just subtle enough to be effective. The song keeps this going for about three and a half minutes before breaking back into the signature sound of the album, and the buildup works quite well. The song then takes a proggy twist by reprising various parts of most (if not all) of the previous songs on the album. I like proggy stuff, so that amount of creativity there earns some big points. The song at this point can almost be seen as a summary of the album, which does a lot to accentuate the central sonic themes throughout the album. It ends abruptly, as many good songs do, and that’s it.
Honestly, of all the albums released this past year, VersaEmerge’s Fixed at Zero has to be near the top of the list. As a debut album it leaves a strong first impression – these guys aren’t messing around. This band definitely has the potential to be a powerhouse if they keep up the songwriting skill shown in songs like “Fixed at Zero” and “Mythology” and can continue to write catchy vocal hooks. The atmosphere works really well, too – it’s dark and creepy but doesn’t push too far into “goth” territory, which gives it a good balance. Will you like Fixed at Zero? I guess it depends. You have to like female-fronted rock music, which is not for everybody. Paramore and Flyleaf are probably the closest relatives to the band when it comes to songwriting, overall atmosphere, and overall sound, but they’re not uniquely comparable to female-fronted bands. They’re a hard-rock and alternative band and they both keep true to the genre and put their own spin on it, too. In short, they’re definitely a band to watch, and I’m eagerly awaiting what comes next.
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