It’s been five years since Minus The Bear released their last full-length, 2012’s Infinity Overhead. Since then, the band has seemingly been at a loss at how to artistically move forward.
There were two album-anniversary nostalgia tours (for They Make Beer Commercials Like This in 2014, Menos El Oso the following year); a B-sides collection and an acoustic album, both feeling like contractual obligations than anything else; and, most shockingly, the departure of drummer and founding member Erin Tate, which if vague social media posts are any indication, was slightly less than amicable. (Minus The Bear frontman Jake Snider recently said Tate couldn’t play in MTB anymore due to “medical issues” yet Tate is currently playing in two new bands, including Ghost Work, which also features Braid’s Chris Broach, so draw your own conclusions.)
Tate’s hip-hop-inflected grooves were just as much a part of Minus The Bear’s early appeal as Dave Knudson’s breathtaking finger-tapping guitar lines or Snider’s occasionally obtuse, frequently sex-charged lyrics, so the drummer’s dismissal was rightfully fretted over by MTB fans. And while no one could ever perfectly duplicate his slightly off-kilter rhythms, new drummer Kiefer Matthias does an admirable job of holding down the fort on VOIDS, Minus The Bear’s latest full-length. The album also marks the band’s return to Suicide Squeeze Records after a 10-year break, which makes VOIDS even more sonically prophetic: If you liked the band’s Suicide Squeeze output more so than their Dangerbird years, odds are you’re going to find a hell of a lot to love about this album.
Highly Refined Pirates fans will gravitate toward “Last Kiss” and “What About The Boat?” with their loose, mid-tempo dance grooves; those partial to Menos El Oso’s taut math-pop will find much to love in “Invisible” and “Robotic Heart.” More of a Planet Of Ice person? “Silver,” VOIDS’ undeniable centerpiece, is an absolute monster and a breathtaking reminder that Minus The Bear can straddle both sides of the prog-punk divide better than most anyone else who tries.
While many might not think of Minus The Bear as an inherently “sexy” band, they’re usually good for a handful of powerful slow jams per album. VOIDS doesn’t quite hit that mark, but “Erase” is up there with such quintessential MTB slow jams as “White Mystery” and “This Ain’t A Surfin’ Movie.” Knudson works wonders with his pedalboard, triggering all sorts of glitchy guitar loops while Snider continues to coax gorgeous sounds out of both his guitar and his falsetto vocals, gently cooing, “I never thought I’d feel so removed from you.”
VOIDS doesn’t solely have the raw, drunken emotion of Highly Refined Pirates, the instant catchiness of Menos El Oso or the warm prog vibes of Planet Of Ice — it has bits of all three, resulting in an album that feels inspired by nostalgia but not limited to it, which bodes well for wherever Minus The Bear decides to go next. Hopefully it won’t take them another half-decade to figure it out.