Artist: Minus the Bear
Album: Infinity Overhead
Label: Dangerbird Records/Big Scary Monsters (UK)
Minus the Bear are a unique entity in their field – and not just because of the amusing song titles that populate their back catalogue (see “Lemurs, Man, Lemurs,” a personal favourite). The band is often described as indie, and yet this seems grossly inadequate in capturing the full evocative spread of their music. Unlike many others, they manage to sound dreamy and removed even without using any of the obvious tools oft-employed to create such a style. They blend subtle romanticism with more overt quirks to mould songs that are mystical and ethereal, yet impossibly everyday. There’s nothing inaccessible about the combination of hushed, serene vocals and intricate guitar work, yet it manages to conceal deep and compelling nuances that keep the songs lingering long in the memory. Minus the Bear might be described as a thinking man’s band, but not one that requires such a level of involvement as, say, mewithoutYou. This is detail and composure with oh so light a touch.
Infinity Overhead is album number five for the Seattle quintet – a quiet and perfect accomplishment that might only be faulted for the absence of innovation. There are certain little flourishes and details that take on more prominent a role, such as the occasional glitzy stamp of a synth, but nothing unheard of in Minus the Bear’s world. The album as a whole is quite contained and brooding and smacks of a quiet, serene intensity. There is always something snapping at the musical threads, without ever becoming visible enough to detonate. The double whammy of “Diamond Lightning” and “Toska” illustrates this in two remarkably different ways. “Diamond Lightning” is an achingly sad song. Seeming tranquil and contemplative at first, it gradually unfurls in a series of poignant, moving strands. Jake Snider’s vocals are reserved but stricken, gathering with the enthusing rhythms and guitar notes to create something lost and profound. There are wounds here that aren’t immediately visible – only really revealing themselves as the music intensifies later on. Harsher guitar work and drums capture the pain of the lyrics and highlight the discreet yet sumptuous manner in which Minus the Bear paint emotion. The song segues beautifully into “Toska,” which is more of an upper after the toils of the previous song. It’s a more playful, exhilarating affair, though it too has hidden treasures. Sourced in something tougher and lingering, the breadth of instrumentation here is gorgeous and may take multiple listens to appreciate. The interludes between verses and chorus feature a burgeoning array of feelings and perspectives, all voiced in the differing instruments, layered vocals, and wavy sounds. As with so much of Minus the Bear’s music, nothing is definite.
These haunting touches also enhance “Listing.” Largely an acoustic track, the sound is fragmentary but compelling. The music’s looser, lighter style makes Snider sound more prominent and expressive than ever. His slightly distanced vocals combine with the earthy sound of the instruments to paint a vivid image of the conflicting thoughts in the protagonist’s head and the detached, careless view of the others around. Infinity Overhead is not all wayward contemplation however. Against this lofty, elegant backdrop, the zeal that permeates the later tracks cuts a rawer silhouette. “Zeroes” is more direct and serious, with an underlying current of aggression. This is about persistence and determination and the higher stakes are matched in the hunted, darker, dramatic swells. “Lonely Gun” is founded in something equally aching and desperate, as evidenced by the caustic drone of the instruments (specifically, one ceaseless and defiant guitar line) throughout. There are haphazard bridges where effects clash noisily off one another, seeming to reflect the whirling notes in the lyrics. The appearance of a saxophone at the end briefly threatens to make it come over all Police Academy, but is not quite enough to undo all the beauty that comes before. “Cold Company” then ends everything on an epic, stirring motif with rolling guitar refrains and drums building up as if to some climactic event.
Graceful, thought-provoking, and intimate, this is a sublimely realised album. Minus the Bear have yet to truly put a foot wrong in their discography, so that while this may not showcase anything particularly new or distanced from earlier work, it slots effortlessly into an existing collection of magic.
Review written by Grace Duffy
Minus the Bear are streaming Infinity Overhead over on their official website. Head on over to have an early listen!