Review Summary: Minus the Bear, minus the electronics.
Acoustics II is the follow up to Minus the Bear’s 2008 EP Acoustics. This release features acoustic renditions of eight songs from the band’s back catalogue as well as two new songs.
The older tunes on Acoustics II hold up quite a bit better than their newer counterparts. I suspect there are a few reasons for this, and not just the old “this bands earlier stuff rulez and the new stuff suckz omg.” Speaking as a whole, the post-Planet of Ice Minus the Bear sound features less guitar layering, slower tempos, more prominent synthesizers, and more reliance on production. When these aspects are translated to an acoustic record, it loses a lot of the original charm and any sort of visceral quality in the music. Take the two tracks from Omni for example. In “Summer Angel” the songs introduction falls flat with the chosen instrumentation. The bridge section of “Dayglow Vista Road” is another offender. In the original electric version, this section is a laid back groove reminiscent of “This Ain’t a Surfin Movie.” On Acoustics II, this section is rushed through and loses the interesting rhythmic clash of the original.
The cuts from Infinity Overhead actually work better to a degree. Guitarist Dave Knudson creates a great tapestry of guitar overdubs on “Diamond Lightning.” Being a ballad, the song makes a natural transition to the acoustic setting. This albums take on “Empty Party Rooms” is effective, albeit safe, as it is essentially the same as the original.
The older cuts enjoy a bit more experimentation in arrangement, especially “When We Escape” and “Hooray.” The former features an amazing stripped down introduction, being just singer Jake Snider’s voice and a lone acoustic guitar. “Hooray” eschews the original versions driving, quarter note heavy forward motion for a falsetto-laden half time groove. Fan favorite “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” features Dave admirably replicating the original finger-tapped guitar line and a great, mellow vibe. The break beats and electronic sounds of Menos El Oso’s “The Game Needed Me” are missed, but the acoustic version has a charm of its own, with handclaps and heavy octaves from keyboard player Alex Rose.
The band also recorded two new songs specifically for this release, and they are quite different from one another. Album opener “Riddles” has a bluesy intro, which comes off as a bit cheesy and a solo section that really doesn’t add anything to the song. The other new track, “The Storm,” has a Planet of Ice vibe, with a dynamic song structure and interesting harmony- a great addition to the band’s catalogue.
All in all, Acoustics II is a solid release. The song selection is a great representation of Minus the Bear’s output, and the two new songs will help tide over fans looking for new material. The production is on point, with the highlights being mellow keyboard sounds and falsetto vocal harmonies. This is an album longtime fans can sing along to, and newcomers can play to chill out on a crisp autumn evening.