VERSUS: Ex Voto (Ernst Jenning Records, 2019)

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“A lot of the songs are about escape, maybe to another dimension or an alternate universe,” Richard concedes. He singles out “Moon Palace” in which Toups sings “I wanted something more/What’s on the other side of the door?,” the existential lyrics belying the song’s saccharine melody. “University” offers the hushed assurance that “paradise [was] lost but we are alive,” echoing Richard’s escape trope. “Atmosphere” has Toups desperately pleading “Did you find the clue I left for you?/Will you realize it was all true?” before whispering with disarming intimacy, “Have you ever felt that way before?/Someone just behind your door?”
The electro-ballad “Baby Green” pairs with “Mummified” at the album’s center and emotional fulcrum, and is the crown jewel, one of the finest songs the band have ever written. Inspired by the Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, “the plot device is the rogue asteroid destroying your world,” Richard explains, “‘swallow[ing] the earth and everything in it.’ But in the end it’s okay, because she has to live her own life, and learn by living, without you or anyone. No matter how painful it is to lose her, her journey, happy or tragic, will be a beautiful one. And I’d wait forever for another glimpse of that beauty.” This newfound faith updates the disenchanted darkness that’s long imbued Versus’ music, an unexpected deluge of oxytocin from a man who in 2010 said, “Well I’m just a dark person, and I get more nihilistic the older I get.”
That may still be the case, but the nihilism is leavened now by an element of hope, more urgent than ever in these dark times. Versus haven’t gone shiny and happy on us, but they’ve matured and embraced themes of mortality and the passage of time with resigned dignity. Creation, the concept of god, and human-ness are all invoked on the metronomic, pulsating track “Re-Animator,” perhaps the most unabashed song the band have ever written, and an appropriate finale to an exhilarating journey.
“Does the story end the way you want it to?,” Baluyut asks on Ex Voto’s opening volley “Gravity,” easily the most anthemic song on the album. It’s also the record’s leitmotif, as there aren’t any simple answers offered here. Yet, in their embrace of spirituality, compassion, and exploration, Versus have never sounded so comfortable on their strange, beautiful, and uncertain path. And nearly 30 years since their inception, they’ve provided us with an album that could just as easily serve as an entry point into their beguiling world, or a brand new favorite for a long-time fan on the remarkable achievement they’ve offered us on Ex Voto” (Bandcamp Note)

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