Review Summary: A very good album worth listening to, but by no means a classic.
2012 marks the 10 year point for the Seattle-based indie/prog band Minus the Bear. How much have they progressed in those 10 years is debatable.
Infinity Overhead is MTB's 5th LP which means they have had some time to hone their sound. However it doesn't necessarily work over the entire length of the album like in their previous efforts, Planet of Ice in particular. Actually, Planet of Ice is a good starting point for this review. POI was an awesome album, damn-near perfect and in my opinion should have been the album to cast them into mainstream. Catchy riffs, killer drums, radio friendly voice, all in all a refreshing new sound from the indie world that seemed to be creeping into mainstream more and more all the time. (Death Cab, The Shins, Modest Mouse) Unfortunately for Jake Snider and Co. that burst into mainstream didn't happen. True they can sell out 1,500 venues all day but they are nowhere close to packing them in like a Death Cab or Shins. I believe this is where the old Minus the Bear died.
Much like Omni, Infinity Overhead has love songs, lots and lots of love songs. Now lyrics have always been a little hit and miss with MTB ranging from painting a beautiful picture of sunsets and strolling through Europe to frivolous teeny-bop lyrics like "I'm into you/Are you into me too?" Regardless, the songs sound a little too forced, just trying to make that single that will be a hit with all the kids. (which if you've been to a MTB show lately, that IS their audience, unfortunately)
Steel and Blood opens the album with a kind of Incubus feel to it but it is a pretty solid single it has a catchy hook and the music is spot on, but it has the lyric bug. "I'll be by your bedside/when you come to me" OK, I get that you are writing in melody and want to have a catchy bridge-part that will stick in peoples heads, but that doesn't even make sense. How do you wait by someones bedside for them to come to you? I know I'm being picky; but enough with the cheesy lines.
Probably the worst example of songwriting comes from the track Heaven is a Ghost Town. Like a lot of other post-POI songs Heaven is a Ghost Town has a very nice feel to it but then the proverbial duece starts spewing from Jake's lips. The song opens; "Heaven is a ghost town/Heaven is a ghost town/Pearly gates fell to the ground/The angels fell a thousand years before/There's no more/They turned off the tunnel of light/No bathing in the warmth of peace/Did the lord stop paying the the lease?/Did the lord stop paying the lease?" I'm sorry but It seems to me that this is just trying REALLY REALLY hard to be some sort of epic masterpiece and when you try to make a song an epic masterpiece you usually end up with, as the kids call it, an epic fail.
Alright enough with the bad, I did give the album a 3.5 which means great, so there has to be some positive here, right? Lyrics aside, i'd say that this album is very solid. Dave Knudson's guitar is excellent as he brings that MTB "bendy guitar" feel that we have grown accustomed to. His tapping is off-the-charts and as inspired as it has ever been. Alex Rose on keys compliments Dave and Jake's guitars better than he ever has, and even though I prefer the more guitar driven MTB of the past, Rose finds himself a nice niche for the overall feel of the album musically. I've always though Erin Tate to be one of the more underrated drummers out there and he does not disappoint. I feel that he is not quite playing on the level of Menos el Olso or Planet of Ice, but a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that there are more slower paced songs that require more of a standard 4/4 straight beat. Collectively, the band makes some great music that doesn't sound like anything else out there.
There are definitely some stand out tracks on this album. Lies and Eyes made my eardrums dance and Jakes staccato lyric delivery had my feet tapping the beat. A very catchy song and one of my early favorites. Diamond Lightning and Toska both are quality tunes. Toska in particular will have old school fans appreciating the comeback of guitar to MTB's music. Now if they could just do something about those lyrics, "I'm a fool in your pocket/Like a picture in your locket"
Much like MTB's previous offerings the last track on the album provides an intense audible journey. Cold Company, feels like the song that has been waiting to punch you in your face after listening to 9 good but not great tracks. Musically it has everything a MTB fan would want all packaged into a 5 minute closing track. Maybe the best part of the song is that it makes the listener feel like there is something worth waiting for on their next album.
Minus the Bear is one of those bands I just can't put my finger on. The talent is there, they have their own sound and have blueprints to making incredible music with their first 3 LP's, yet they make songs catering to adolescent love. In the search to produce another Pahucca Sunrise (i.e. Listing) MTB has lost the edge that made them a must-hear band. It's true that Minus the Bear should be a household name on par with Modest Mouse or Death Cab, it's just too bad that they haven't put anything out on that level since Planet of Ice in 2007.
It seems that the electronic feel is here to stay with Minus the Bear and we may never have another POI. That in itself may make every album forthcoming a disappointment. However, Infinity Overhead is still a very good album and in the fairness of an objective review shouldn't be compared to the bands previous efforts in grading it. That is why I give it a 3.5-Great. It is a great album with lots to be appreciated on it, new fans could start at this album and work backward in their catalog, and boy would they be in for a treat...