The phrase “it’s a grower, not a show-er,” might not be one you’ve heard applied to music before, but in the case of Minus the Bear’s latest album, it’s appropriate. The sometimes indie-rock/occasionally electro-pop/always experimental Seattle band follows up its 2010 release, Omni, with Infinity Overhead via Dangerbird Records. While the album certainly isn’t a bad one—and it’s notably better than its predecessor—it’s still a long shot from matching the band’s older work.
Infinity Overhead is an album you’ll spin a few times, but not for the right reasons. Sure, Infinity has its hits. “Diamond Lightning,” so reminiscent of the somber Planet of Ice, has a way of crawling into your ears and refusing to leave. Jake Snider’s dark, distant vocals are out in full force, while the guitar work gently glides behind it. It’s a song that’s sad but catchy and perfectly demonstrative of the work Minus the Bear is capable of. “Lies and Eyes,” armed with Snider’s halting vocals and the band’s signature prog-rock approach, is another track worth spending some time with. It’s a song stuck somewhere between pop-rock and indie electro—a track so like the band’s older work that perhaps that’s what makes it appealing.
There’s a definite method to Minus the Bear’s madness; it’s what makes each album so very familiar. Their sound is different, but it’s also exactly what you expect. Let’s be clear about one thing: Minus the Bear has come a long way since their debut release, This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic, back in 2001. Their songs have jumped from playful, pop culture references to darker waters. Where their old work was sometimes random and sporadic, their new music has more structure and flow. But each step in this new direction often feels like two steps back. It was too easy for me to pass over ear-grating, heavily processed tracks like “Zeroes,” a song that I instinctively wanted to hit skip on, or “Lonely Gun.” “Lonely Gun,” so brash and bold with its gritty guitar work and charging instrumentals, falls short of gripping. “I don’t know where the last pieces go to fix our love/to fix our love/we try, we try to fill it up again,” challenges Snider, his voice angry and soft at the same time. It’s a different track for Infinity, but there’s nothing inherently interesting about it. “Lonely Gun” feels forced at best, yet not forceful enough to be worthwhile.
Before you pick up this album, know that you’ll need a little time and patience to get attached. So many of its melodies tend to bleed into the background, and it takes time to pick apart what’s worthwhile. Perhaps it’s because I spent so much time before the album release reacquainting myself with their old work, but I find myself disappointed. Somewhere between their transformation from carefree and punchy to mature and structured, Minus the Bear lost a little of their spark. There’s just something missing, and I don’t know where the last pieces go to fix our love.