When a band like Minus The Bear arrives on the scene, it's hard not to hear their music and think to yourself "Wow, these guys sound so cool
!" Not necessarily "cool" as in "awesome," but just totally and completely chill
. When you hear the content, occasionally profound lyrics pour smoothly from vocalist and rhythm guitarist Jake Snider, you realize that he's just completely committed to hanging out at the beach on a cool California night and spending some time with his significant other (often after having a few drinks). Indeed, nearly every song on MTB's first full-length album is about nothing more than drinking and girls. But does that make them shallow? Is Highly Refined Pirates
an album completely devoid of any real intellectual value? Of course not. The obvious meanings of the album's individual songs are nothing compared to the overall effect produced by the songs and the pictures they paint.
For some people, Minus The Bear's lyrics may be nothing more than mushy love songs or meaningless glimpses into the lives of a cosmopolitan Californian couple enjoying their relationship together as wild and carefree young adults. But to remove the lyrics from the context of the music is missing the point entirely! It's only by listening to the songs as a whole (and the album as well) that you can really understand how heart-achingly beautiful and full of meaning this record is. Not to mention that the total sum of Minus The Bear's efforts results in an album that is truly unique
. But what kind of musicians could possibly unite to form such a one-of-a-kind band?
Dave Knudson is the lead guitarist of Minus The Bear, but before this band was formed he was in a very different group. Dave was once the guitarist for Botch, a metalcore band, and now that he is in a decidedly non-metallic group like Minus The Bear, what can his considerable shredding skills do for them? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Using two-handed tapping, Knudson is able to add delicate, almost piano-like melodies with a technique that is usually reserved only for lightning-fast Eddie Van Halen-types. Listen to the verses of "Spritz!! Spritz!!!" and you'll hear something that at first sounds like normal staccato guitar strokes. But listen more carefully and you'll hear no strumming at all; it's just Knudson providing his lead guitar skills in a completely different style than some might be used to. The rhythm section is certainly not going to underperform on this album, either. Bassist Cory Murchy is nearly always audible, especially given the album's tendency for such subdued guitar melodies. As for drummer Erin Tate, his playing is simply phenomenal. His up-tempo, energetic beats on songs like the aforementioned "Spritz!! Spritz!!!" provide a great driving feeling to a song which is, not coincidentally, about driving. He also has some great danceable beats throughout the album, but doesn't fall into the trap of sounding like a New Wave drum machine. And in slower parts like the shimmering intro to "Absinthe Party At the Fly Honey Warehouse," his delicate cymbal crashes and snare rolls really add to the atmosphere of Knudson's quiet tapping. It makes the listener feel as if they're slowly tip-toeing into the calm night's sea, and as the drumming slightly picks up one feels as if they've finally taken that plunge into the deeper water and are ready for a nice swim. Such an amazing, controlled use of percussion is just one aspect of why Minus The Bear is so unique. Their song titles are another...
You may notice that I've only mentioned a few individual songs by name here, and a glance to the album info column to the right shows them all. The song titles are ridiculous and usually humorous, while the titles of some of the interlude tracks are quotes from the film Starship Troopers
. If you were to judge the band by the song titles alone, you might think they were a pop-punk band. But make no mistake about it: while Minus the Bear may share the catchiness and carefree spirit of many MTV-favorite power pop groups, their musical technicality and lack of whininess thoroughly sets them apart (not to mention that they just don't sound anything alike!).
So while you may scoff at the band on the basis of their song titles, I highly encourage you to look past that unpleasant labeling and really explore the album for its true nature. Check out their [url=http://youtube.com/watch?v=6igPbVaUSAU&search=minus%20the%20bear]live performance of the previously mentioned "Spritz!! Spritz!!!"[/url] to get a feel for one of the albums highlights. It also showcases Dave Knudson's guitar tapping and the extreme power behind the drumkit. Although I may have been a little harsh on the lyrics of the album, I think that there are certain examples that really stand out. Take the chorus of the beautiful-yet-subdued song "Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo":
You said, 'My life's like a bad movie,'
And I said, 'It's true of all us.'
You said, you said, 'I've got to wake up so fucking early,'
And I said, 'Maybe the directors turned on us.'
Even if those words don't strike you as profound at first glance, it's hearing them sung and in the full context of the song that really allows them to hit home. Every once in a while, the protagonist of the songs in Highly Refined Pirates
knows when to stop talking about having sex in the water (i.e. "Women We Haven't Met Yet") and makes the observations that really mean something. I hope that in time, more people can discover the unique and "chill" qualities of this band, but until then I can't exactly call this album a 5/5 classic. I'm giving it a 4.5 because it will never be "perfect" until it has the kind of impact it deserves, but it's always possible in the future.
I also wish I could have taken more time to talk about individual songs. After all, most of my reviews are in the infamous track-by-track format. But I've given so much thought to the album as a whole, that the only thing you should imply from it is that you should really hear the whole album.
That's probably my best recommendation to give you, rather than just a few songs. I hope you can find this band as interesting and captivating as I clearly do.