Review Summary: Minus the Bear release a Minus the Bear record. This is a good thing.
I’m only a recent fan of Minus the Bear. I was far too young when the band reached their peak popularity and creativity, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating both Menos el Oso
and Planet of Ice
. What I like to refer to as “Plus the Layers”, these two albums are the epitome of Minus the Bear; layers of guitar, vocals, electronics, you name it. Both albums are so beautifully crafted that the landscapes they both paint are just a thought away. But, sadly, the magic founded in both these albums were lost in follow-ups Omni
and Infinity Overhead
; both albums lacked the finesse that was the main draw for the band, resulting in bland, run of the mill songs with some electronics sprinkled in. And now we reach VOIDS
, an album five years in the making. Is it the return to form we all so desperately want, or is it the band finding themselves losing relevancy once more?
In short, MTB have rediscovered some of the magic that was previously thought to have disappeared forever; VOIDS
welcomes back the much loved guitar focus, along with a more engrossing vocal performance and tighter song writing. The way the strings push forward opener ‘Last Kiss’ allows for a more open and expansive song, with the vocals of Jake Snider providing a surprising amount of groove to an already, well, groovy song. Though his pair of lungs have never been the standout for the five-piece, they’ve always provided a certain backbone to much of their discography, and this latest outing is no different. The way the chorus picks up by layering his vocals allows for a certain depth their previous two outings lacked. The same can be said for ‘Call The Cops’; his melodic tone fading in and out ever so slightly, dancing around the measured guitar lines.
Speaking of guitars, both Snider and Dave Knudson provide a fantastic, albeit disappointing performance for the 46-minute runtime. It’s not that the guitars are lacking in any specific aspect; if anything, they carry the album in strides, always staying just mellow enough to work their way in without overpowering the other members of the band. The issue, however, lies with the lack of surprise; Planet of Ice
created this amazing landscape through purely the guitar work and its ability to work around the rest of the band. However, on VOIDS
, the band find themselves drifting off during songs, playing the same riff and never straying too far from it. The best example of this is ‘What About the Boat?’. The song begins to drag only mid-way through, and seems more like a reprieve than an actual complete track. Additionally, the bass line, although never a particularly noticeable asset for the band, lacks depth throughout the runtime to be given a positive comment. Despite this, the album gladly does tend to have a Planet of Ice
vibe to it at times; ‘Invisible’ brings back the tapping strings we know and love, and plays a simple but atmospheric electronic line throughout.
And despite a rather tame front end, VOIDS
has plenty left to offer on the back end. The slight post-rock tone to ‘Silver’ allows for the guitars to play at their own pace, with the other instrumentals happy to sit back and let the guitars push forward. ‘Robotic Heart’ also provides a nice tempo change for the album, playing a little faster than the previous songs and allows new drummer Kiefer Matthias to show his ability to play just the right tempo without overwhelming both the song and the listener. The most exciting track, however, is the most appreciative of Minus the Bear’s past; ‘Lighthouse’ is the perfect closer and wouldn’t sound out of place on Planet of Ice
. The way the track starts slow, and picks up ever so slightly as the song progresses, letting the relaxed vibe of Snider hover over the entire track. And as the song picks up towards the end, it provides a great space for every instrument to close out the album exactly how they want.
Although it may seem worrying that the band’s best tracks on VOIDS
are those most similar to their previous efforts, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After a couple of lackluster outings, Minus the Bear combine old with new, and provide an album worth praising for being, well, a Minus the Bear record. The band, despite coming up on nearly fifteen years together, are still top of the game when it comes to guitar-laden, indie-leaning math-rock. And if VOIDS
is anything to go by, perhaps the five-piece are still able to pull one out of the metaphorical bag.
Recommended songs: Last Kiss, Invisible, Robotic Heart, Lighthouse