The problem with being a great “working” band is that you always have that one album people will think about when you release your latest effort. Well, Minus the Bear has three. And with each new LP, the band refined a sound that was ever-changing and amongst the most unique in the indie rock genre.
Highly Refined Pirates quickly became a cult classic with song titles like “Let’s Play Guitar in a Five Guitar Band,” lyrics that chilled listeners to the bone, and a groovy mellow jazz swing that most staccato indie bands had yet to achieve. Minus the Bear didn’t stop there, though. Menos el Oso was a different breed of album altogether. Building on the electronic breaks from Pirates, the band showed us that indie music could be more than just a few guitars with light distortion and a disco drum beat. But what many would consider their oeuvre is a little album called Planet of Ice. Critics were hailing them as the second coming of Pink Floyd, and the only thing the album was missing was a built-in laser light show.
So it is no surprise that when Omni came out, people were beginning to get a little jaded by the greatness that was the Bear. Fans and critics alike shunned the record for being “run of the mill” and “lacking in the classic MTB trademarks.” But what are the trademarks? Planet of Ice had been their foray into psychedelic rock royalty; Menos el Oso was a dance hook, math rock explosion of sound; and Pirates was the introduction of modern indie music. If anything, Minus the Bear’s trademark is that they don’t have a trademark. Their sound is much like the sandworm from Dune in that it has been given numerous titles, worshiped as a manifestation from a higher power, and can only be ridden by people under the influence of heavy amounts of spice.
Giant sandworms and laser lights aside, Minus the Bear’s new album Infinity Overhead is the culmination of 11 years of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. From the very first song, “Steel and Blood,” Minus the Bear sets the tone for an experience altogether its own, yet still sharing in the accents that made the band great in the first place. The song starts with heavy down strums and a back beat that will tear your face off before drifting into a light, airy sensibility with soaring vocals and sprightly key progression layered in the background. The third track, “Diamond Light,” expands on the Planet of Ice sound by starting off as a trippy little journey filled with lightly delayed guitars, backwards synth sounds, and a melancholy vocal line that progressively blossoms into a track of relentless sonic presents and unrelenting emotion.
Out of all the songs on the album, I find “Toska” to be potentially the most exciting. One of the few staples of Minus the Bear’s sound is the electronic fills from the keyboards that have accompanied their unique style from record to record, but on “Toska,” the electronic feel of the keys has been traded in for the more organic sound of strings and metal. Right about the time the guitars set off, aerobically tapping in a melodious mixture of harmonies, the sound of a xylophone is blended in to the atmosphere with what sounds like a giant harp after the break, and the song’s vibe is taken to a level I have yet to see from Minus the Bear.
“Heaven is a Ghost Town” is the first song on which I have noticeably heard Jake step outside his comfort zone with the lyrics and approach a topic that most bands in the genre wouldn’t touch with a ten foot clown pole. It deals with the questioning of the existence of a higher power, how said higher power has seemingly abandoned us, heaven itself, and the wave of persecution its followers have laid upon the nonbelievers. Not that I am getting tired of songs focusing on love, sex, travelling, and drug use, but it is inspiring to hear a band like Minus the Bear approach these types of topics with their music, and I really hope we get to see more of that in the future.
Ending the album is my favorite song on the record, “Cold Company.” The energy I get from this particular track isn’t matched by any other on the album. It is pretty much the feeling you get when seeing Minus the Bear live, wide open, wild eyed, and free flowing. The drums lay a foundation that the rest of the band dances around like some sort of demon-possessed Patrick Swayze or angry, footloose Kevin Bacon. The lyrics are strong, and the music progressions are simplistically complex. In short, it is chaos controlled and perfected.
Overall Infinity Overhead is something that any fan of rock music will want to pick up and a very bright light for the future of a band that has already proven itself over and over again.
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