When asked, the boys of Minus the Bear reflect on their name as an inside joke. Famous for their unusual way with words — the band boasts song titles like “Lemurs, Man, Lemurs” and “Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister” — Minus the Bear is a more than appropriate moniker for a group that intertwines plunky bass and metal guitar licks over a backdrop of arithmetic beats and keyboards.
The band's newest release, the appropriately titled “Menos el Oso” (Minus the Bear), offers a slew of interesting tunes. The offspring of several successful Northwest acts (Kill Sadie, Botch and Sharks Keep Moving), Minus the Bear marks the return of the Seattle super group. With Jake Snider spouting vocals, David Knudson on guitar, Erin Tate keeping beat, Corey Murchy on bass and Matt Bayles mastering electronics, Minus the Bear's “Menos el Oso” is a fast-paced riot of an album that spans 11 energetic tracks with material that will satisfy new and old fans alike.
I got a sneak peek at their August 23 release. The disc is their second major full-length since the five-song release, “This is What I Know About Being Gigantic,” jumped onto the CMJ college charts in 2001.
On the new album the band merges together a few of its staple touches — roaming guitar, mathy beats, slick keyboards and Snider's emotional vocals — to create something truly unique. Unlike earlier efforts, “Menos el Oso” pushes the constraints of the sound that the band grew comfortable with on 2002's “Highly Refined Pirates,” stretching to produce a piece of work that challenges the boundaries of the indie genre itself.
“Menos el Oso” hits the ground running with the opening track “The Game Needed Me,” and slides along through a landscape of slick bells and whistles. “Memphis and 53rd” brings the excitement down a notch, but quickly relinquishes the reins to the band's pop influences on the infectious “The Fix,” which masks an otherwise straightforward tune with kickin' beats and catchy riffs. The song, which combines impressive guitar work with Snider's signature driving vocals, is the perfect gateway to the CD's more serious second half.
“Pachuca Sunrise” and “Drilling” are as danceable as they are beautiful, tugging at the band's talent for pulling together party beats with emotional lyrics and melodies. (The band unleashed the songs at a recent Hollywood-area show, working the crowd — who likely never thought it possible to groove to indie rock — into a frenzy.)
The album's first single, “Hooray,” matches the intensity of Minus the Bear's classic pulse-pounders “Fine + 2 Pts” and “Let's Play Clowns,” which combine Knudson's clever guitar work and Snider's retro vocal stylings in pitch-perfect synchronicity.
The disc's most interesting song, “The Pig War,” is a beautiful blend of synthesizer tricks, vocals and guitar. Snider and Knudson audibly duel through this track, trading off hooks as the song builds to its raucous finale.
“Menos el Oso” does hit a few low points. Songs like “This Ain't a Surfin' Movie” and “Fulfill the Dream,” which provide slow breaks from the album's zippier material, seem to fall in the wrong places, and don’t live up to brilliant ballad-esque tracks like “I'm Totally Not Down With Rob's Alien” that fit so well on earlier works. Many of the songs lag and the crunchiness that made 2004's “They Make Beer Commercials Like This” such a pleasure, is missing.
Produced almost entirely by the Minus the Bear crew, “Menos el Oso” is an impressive accomplishment. And while it's still a bit premature to give away all the secrets of “Menos el Oso,” it's never too early to begin dusting off your dancing shoes for the next time these guys roll into town.
For more info on Minus the Bear, visit: http://www.minusthebear.com/.