Minus the Bear adds to its repertoire
Latest CD marks unintentional return to its guitar-heavy roots
Friday, November 16, 2012
If you go
What: Minus the Bear, in concert.
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 16.
Where: The Wonder Ballroom, 128 N.E. Russell St., Portland.
Cost: $20 through Ticketfly, 877-435-9849.
For some fans of Minus the Bear, the group’s CD, “Omni,” was too much of a departure from earlier albums. More keyboard and electronic oriented, “Omni” contrasted notably with the guitar-centered, angular rock that had characterized the first three albums by the Seattle-based band.
The musical shift didn’t happen by accident. Minus the Bear went into “Omni” feeling it was time to shake it up musically and try some new things. The group changed producers, going with Joe Chiccarelli and wanted to put more emphasis on keyboards and electronics.
But with its new CD, “Infinity Overhead,” Minus the Bear has returned to its familiar guitar-oriented sound. The group also reunited with Matt Bayles, who produced the first three albums and was also the original Minus the Bear keyboardist before leaving in 2006 to concentrate on producing records.
On the surface, this looks like a case of a band listening to its fans and deciding it should return to more of the sound that attracted people to it in the first place.
The reality, according to singer/guitarist Jake Snider, is nothing is that calculated.
“I personally really liked ‘Omni’ myself,” Snider said. “I liked the direction. I think it sounds really cool. But when we do make new music, we never really think about a direction. And the only record that we really had a focused aesthetic for was ‘Planet of Ice.’ But in general, we just see what we come up with.”
Snider credits guitarist Dave Knudson and drummer Erin Tate with setting the more guitar-heavy, harder hitting tone for “Infinity Overhead,” as the two took the lead in songwriting for the album.
“Pretty much I think it’s just where Dave and Erin took things when they were in the studio,” Snider said. “I think Dave wanted it to be more guitar-oriented, more rock and roll.”
The guitar-heavy sound on "Infinity Overhead" is nothing new for Minus the Bear, but the band has rarely rocked as hard as it does on the new CD’s uptempo tracks.
The tone for the consistently strong album gets set with the opening track, “Steel and Blood,” with its sharp guitar lines and crashing beats bringing crunch to the song’s angular and appealing melody. Other songs, such as “Zeros,” “Cold Company” and “Lies and Eyes,” carry forward that edgy, yet tuneful sound. The band, though, also includes some more expansive and quieter tunes (“Diamond Lightning,” “Empty Party Rooms” and “Heaven Is a Ghost Town”), which lends “Infinity Overhead” considerable range.
Interestingly enough, Snider said “Infinity Overhead” reminds him of the group’s 2004 EP, “They Make Beer Commercials Like This,” which came out ahead of “Menos el Oso,” the band’s second full-length CD.
“It (‘Infinity Overhead’) is just kind of a lot like that,” he said. “To me, it really kind of echoes the direction we were headed before ‘Oso.’ ”
One thing, though, that makes “Infinity Overhead” markedly different from “The Beer Commercials” EP, as well as Minus the Bear’s other early releases — the 2001 EP, “This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic,” the 2002 EP “Bands Like It When You Yell ‘Yar!’ at Them,” and the 2002 full-length, “Highly Refined Pirates” — are the lyrics to the new CD, which Snider said he considers darker than any of the other albums.
That’s quite a contrast from the early albums, which often featured jokey song titles to go with light-hearted lyrics. Looking back, Snider said the early lyrical direction had a lot to do with how Minus the Bear formed.
The group began as a side project, bringing together members from three well known Seattle bands. Knudson was in the band Botch. Tate and bassist Cory Murchy were in Kill Sadie and Snider was a member of Sharks Keep Moving. (Keyboardist Alex Rose is the other member of Minus the Bear.)
“I think that’s why the song titles were so ridiculous,” Snider said. “We were kind of trying to have fun with it and trying to not take it as seriously as we thought we were taking our other bands. But things have a tendency to take on their own personality and their own life. Like very quickly after hearing what we were doing, just the music, I think we wanted pretty quickly to do it wholeheartedly and make it our focus.”
The funny song titles had pretty much gone by the wayside by the “Menos el Oso” CD, and these days Minus the Bear is considered one of the most distinctive bands on the indy rock scene.
Snider said the band’s tour this fall will touch on material from throughout its catalog.
“We’re just trying to get a little deeper into the older material that we haven’t played in a long time, some of the favorites that we just kind of have in general between the five of us, as well as a pretty hefty chunk of the new record,” Snider said. “I mean, this record I think we’re kind of leveraging more than we usually do for a new record live just because it works well. It works so well live.”