If you look up the term “verge” in the dictionary, one of the definitions that you would come across is that verge is “the limit or point beyond which something begins to occur; brink.” I reference this definition for the simple reason that Minus The Bear seems to be on the verge of breaking out in the music industry, a fact that could be considered surprising if you know any of the band’s history.
The Seattle-based group is not your typical rock band. Its 2001 debut EP, “This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic,” featured song titles such as “Hey, Wanna Throw Up? Get Me Naked” and “Pantsuit…Uggghhh.” Song titles not withstanding, the band became notable for putting together songs that combine ultra-intricate melodies with sophisticated rhythms and time signatures. To put it bluntly, they’re not your run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen pop-punk outfit. Two LPs and two EPs would follow. But when you study the course of the band’s last few releases, you begin to notice the subtle and gradual evolution that has been taking place.
This brings us to the new full-length album, “Planet of Ice.” There are some out there who think that the title is terribly appropriate being that this album finds the band arguably at their darkest and most crudely calculated. “Planet of Ice” seems to take on a more serious tone and feel. The crazy song titles have all but vanished and the song structures have grown tighter and more refined. Much of the swagger that encompassed its earlier works is gone, instead having morphed into a sort of cool, subtle confidence that can clearly be heard in its playing.
By the same turn however, this album finds the band at perhaps its most technically and musically proficient. The complex and rhythmic melodies are some of the most eclectic and precise that the band has put together over its six years of existence. But the best moments are spread out and scattered over several tracks as opposed to being centralized in a few specific locations. It certainly works on songs like “Double Vision Quest,” which simmers for two minutes before exploding in an almost cacophonic sea of guitars and programmed noises and beats.
Also, tracks like “Throwin’ Shapes” and “Knights” are more typical of stuff the band has been doing for years, but the pieces fall together just right so that the formula avoids sounding worn out and haggard.
Meanwhile, lead-vocalist Jake Snider has never been the most interesting or passionate vocalist, and this album does nothing to change that perception. However, considering the moody and slightly paranoid feel that the lyrics on this album have, Snider’s deadpan delivery is more then adequate.
When it comes down to it, maybe this was not the most progressive step forward the band could have taken. When a band approaches the math/prog rock cliff, people can’t help but want the group to make the jump and see where they land. Minus the Bear is one of those groups who still have not made that jump, though I’m not sure if it would be the best thing for the group to do.
Regardless, this album is not a misstep and is a quality offering from one of this decade’s most intriguing rock outfits.