Review Summary: Flashes of brilliance juxtaposed with imperfections.
With the release of their fourth album 'Omni', Minus the Bear alienated their fan base. Their third release ‘Planet of Ice’ was a sprawling landscape of progression; the welcome conclusion of all that had preceded it. Rather than build upon this sound however, an abrupt change of direction was adopted and so was born the poppy, synth laden ‘Omni’. Taken as a stand-alone release and viewed objectively, ‘Omni’ succeeded in being a good album. It was bouncy, bright, and full of all the hooks and lyrical suggestiveness we’ve come to expect from Minus the Bear; just in a totally new package. One of the biggest criticisms aimed at ‘Omni’ was the sparse use of guitarist Dave Knudson, who had been the driving force behind some of the greatest moments on their previous three releases. ‘Infinity Overhead’ sees the welcome return of Knudson and his trademark technicality; however its combination with their new influences yields mixed results.
‘Infinity Overhead’ would have been the perfect bridge between their third and fourth albums, and should have been the natural successor to ‘Planet of Ice’ before they sank their teeth fully into synth pop. Thankfully, ‘Omni’ has acted as a yardstick for Minus the Bear, and the band have decided upon a middle ground, combining the new with their sound of old. Typically technical guitar work by Knudson is married with bright synth lines rather than shunned in favour of them, and many of the album’s highlights arise when this combination is utilized and implemented correctly. The final minute of ‘Lies and Eyes’ sees frantic fretwork complement the synth effectively, whilst ‘Lonely Gun’ sees the roles reversed with Knudson taking the reins and driving the song forward through a heavily distorted riff. The undisputable album highlight however, is closing track ‘Cold Company’. Opening with a soaring riff and accompanied by a solid bassline by Cory Murchy, ‘Cold Company’ is as energetic as Minus the Bear have ever dared to go. Powerful drumming by oft-overlooked drummer Erin Tate builds on the base set by Knudson and Murchy, and Jake Snider delivers a stellar performance akin to that of ‘Drilling’ on ‘Menos El Oso’.
Both the beginning and end of ‘Infinity Overhead’ are stronger than the middle, and that is where the pitfalls primarily occur. ‘Listing’ feels like an attempt to replicate the insouciant brilliance that permeated tracks like ‘El Torrente’ on ‘Menos El Oso’, except without the swagger that Snider delivered his suggestive lyrics with. ‘Empty Party Rooms’ is painfully ironic since it feels devoid of emotion and struggles to leave a lasting impression, although in the context of the album it does not hinder its flow. ‘Heaven is a Ghost Town’ however, features gorgeous intertwining guitar work in the intro, and assured drumming by Tate throughout. Snider also delivers one of his best vocal performances here, with his repetition of “heaven is a ghost town” ranging from sweet and melodic, to bordering on haunting.
‘Infinity Overhead’ should have been the perfect Minus the Bear album. Given that it is an amalgamation of their previous styles, the potential existed for a release that should have made the listener dance and rock simultaneously. Instead, prospective moments of brilliance fall flat from an occasionally weary sounding Snider, and an inability to replicate the atmospheres that comprised and elevated their former works.