Review Summary: This could be MTB's best.
Now that Omni has had time to sink into listeners, it is fun to venture into past Minus the Bear albums. And with winter in full swing, 2007’s Planet of Ice seems all too appropriate. The name of the album alone sets a Wintery tone that is 100% backed up by the music. There is no false advertising here as Minus the Bear once again keeps an odd watery theme. Take Highly Refined Pirates out on the lake feel and the unmistakable night on the beach portrayal with Menos El Oso. For those who got caught in the rain while listening to Omni you know that the Bear is undeniably crafty at pulling this off.
After a few listens it easy to discover that the five-piece band was onto something. Delving deep within the record the listener discovers that these ten densely layered tracks might even be the best this Seattle band has ever made. With Planet of Ice comes a densely capped flurry of sounds that dazzle as well as chill. Every instrument is flawlessly crafted into each song making for an overall effort with not even subtly weaknesses. The progression this band made remains remarkable with every instrument improving in spite of a member change at keyboard. From the video game esc synthesizer that erupts to start the album to the guitar onslaught that ends it, every instrument shines. Handclaps, a xylophone, a saxophone, and piano create a variety of sounds on the record.
Jake Snider brings an “A” game of darkly mysterious sex in fused lyrics. Delivered with just the right touch of urgent calling and soothing sensitivity, Snider captivates listeners each step of the way. He carries listeners on a rollercoaster ride with epics “Burying Luck” and “Double Vision Quest”. Spacey numbers like “White Mystery”, “Dr. L’ling”, and "When We Escape" relax but still mystify. Lines like "you must be an illusion, can I still see through you" from "When We Escape" give a small sample to what brilliance can be found on this record. On guitar he keeps the groove that is cohesively paired with lead guitarist Dave Knudson. Snider again improves on the axe with his calming, at times subtle, rhythms and shows he holds is own instrumentally as well as vocally with the balancing act on this album.
Guitar master Dave Knudson simply works magic throughout the record. His delay infused riffs grab the listener, carrying him or her with dancing effect-laden melodies. Physical playing ability cannot be overshadowed by tricks how ever. This guy writes licks that leave you frozen in the dark. “Knights”, a single accompanied the band's most trippy music video, provides perfect example of what Knudson cooks up on this album. Listeners can feast on tracks like “Dr. L’ling” and “Double Vision Quest” for Knudson’s superb handy work. Frankly, it’s hard to believe Dave’s oh-so- sexy guitar could improve and the ice planet might even have him at his best.
Drummer Erin Tate’s tightly wrapped beats provide perfect foundation on the entire album. All other instrumentation nestles nicely in between the snare taps. But his work is anything but background noise on the planet. A stylized jazz feel can be found throughout the album creating many toe-tapping numbers. In some cases the sound is almost dance provoking. Percussion flows smoothly throughout the record with timely surprise bursts scattered all over. These bursts can be found in the electric drum variety on songs like “Dr.L’ling” and in timely fills like those in “Knights”. Much like they rest of the band his efforts on this impressive record have only improved since 2005’s equally impressive Menos El Oso.
With all the loud eruptions created by the other members, bassist Corey Murchy provides just the right low-rolling subtleties. Simple put he is the perfect third guitar. With Knudson’s bright delayed melodies and Snider’s calming chords, Murchy finds his nitche with his low base tones. Listen hard enough and Murchy delivers just as well as the fellow guitarist. Simply tune into “White Mystery” to immediately lock into a sexy bass-walk that is sure to provoke. Captivating bass lines are often tough to find in a collective effort, especially with guitarist that steal much of the attention, but Planet of Ice is full of them.
Finally, to pull all of the Planet’s sounds together and truly capture the sound of sex and winter, there is Alex Rose’s keyboard. Beginning with synthesizer tells immediately what Minus the Bear was up to on this record. They also introduce the news member of the band after former keyboard and backing vocalists Matt Bayles left to pursue a career as a producer (post- hardcore fans are drooling in anticipation of Matt’s work on Dance Gavin Dance’s future release). But this is where Minus the bear has improved the most. Rose brings a dark, more mature sound to the ivories that had not been developed on past LP’s and EP’s. He’s able to create more than just ambient tones, but also subtle piano work on “Knights” and synthesizer waves on many titles that include “When We Escape” and “Lotus”. His blanket of sound ties every bit of ambiance together creating an open cool darkness that inexplicably explains for the wintery feel of this record.
Rarely can music capture whole seasons, but Minus the Bear has managed to do it with a peddle to the floor enthusiasm that burst throughout Planet of Ice. This wintery record stands as their darkest yet, but carries with it a sound that cohesively captures the band at their best. Every aspect of this LP finds its way to the top of the ranks creating, undeniably, this quintet’s best work. Each song is jig-sawed together perfectly to entertain from start to finish. Albums with such perfect mixing of songs, that generate so much playback value, are nearly impossible to find. We all have our list of gems out there. It’s now time to add Planet of Ice to your list.