Minus The Bear
The amazing thing about this band is that they consistently manage to push the boundaries of the unique little box they’ve built, painted, and decorated to comfortably house their sound. The unrestricted jam-band mentality of Planet Of Ice (their previous effort) was a sharp departure from the carefully conceived, grungy beach tunes found on their second album, Menos El Oso.
Menos seemed as though it had the potential to propel the band into superstardom. That never happened, and to be honest I don’t think they really wanted it to happen. MTB has one of the most loyal fanbases of any prog rock band performing today. This is what allows them the freedom to maneuver in the pocket. The fact that they can change the hue and tone of their work, while still maintaining their distinct style of time-signature shifts and catchy, syncopated guitar riffs remains the single reason why their core audience has never strayed.
For the most part this album is no different. The uncharacteristically bright opening track (and lead single), “My Time”, seems to make it clear right off the bat that this is a pop-skewed album. Hell, it seemed like that was made clear when the decision to bring on famed White Stripes producer Joe Chiccarelli was made. But then again, we are talking about Minus the Bear here, and if they wanted to sell out and make a pop album they would’ve done it a long time ago. Instead I like to think of this as another MTB experiment in sound.
On “Summer Angel”, the very next track, we find a restrained and gentle riff from guitarist Dave Knudson. If you’re unfamiliar with MTB’s music, trust me, this is hard for him to do. The result is that Jake Snider’s vocals and storytelling lyricism take center stage… at least until the effects laden guitar solo.
I told you Knudson had trouble letting go.
But this is a relief. Even in their attempt to downplay their affinity for massive temporal-lobe-shredding breakdowns, the beast still somehow manages to swipe at the listener from the cage. It’s released once again on the next track with a heavy but extremely addictive guitar riff from Knudson that backs a carefully progressing and awesomely building track reminiscent of some of the band’s best work.
Once you get through “Hold Me Down” and “Excuses,” you begin to see that the grungy yet catchy Minus the Bear sound has taken hold once again. Longtime fans can take a sigh of relief. From this point on we know that the band hasn’t changed one bit. It’s my theory that the first two tracks are Chiccarelli’s way of easing the uninitiated Minus the Bear listener into the virtuosic whirlwind that is their signature sound.
While the first half of the album is solid (it’s only 10 tracks), the final half could have been a complete body of work in and of itself. The funky guitar plucks of “The Thief” hurry forward into one of the highlights, the melodic synth-bouncing “Into The Mirror.” Jake gets to flex his storytelling muscle again by telling of an encounter with a young lady at a wild house party. His writing ability has always been his strongest suit, and here he proves it once again.
As soon as the track ends, a bizarre-electro reversal of its primary riff begins to take shape. “Animal Backwards” plays like we actually had taken a trip through the mirror — into the dark subconscious of the previous track. This being the most sonically experimental piece of music on the album, it makes you wonder why they couldn’t have maintained this strange and interesting journey for the entire thing (it is only 10 tracks).
I honestly don’t think that it’s possible for Minus the Bear to release a mediocre album. Omni doesn’t reach the same dizzying heights that some of their past releases have attained, but it’s a solid piece of work. Definitely something to keep blasting in the car for the upcoming summer months. For those unfamiliar with the MTB catalogue, this a good start. Just be sure to start working your way back to the classics. Maybe with a few more listens I’ll be considering this one of them.