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Minus The Bear owes a reasonable chunk of their genetic code to the most forgettable of ‘90s rock, and they act like they’re acutely aware of it, desperately trying to break away from the legacy of The Nixons and Candlebox with contrived complexity: Unexpected tempo shifts, motivic changes, chopped samples, sequenced keyboards, and a generally sectional approach to what otherwise might be perfectly pleasant riff rock.

Drummer Erin Tate is jaw-droppingly flawless throughout. My analytical lobes always welcome the change of pace whenever he charges to the forefront mid-song to define the groove of whatever disjunct little section is coming up next. But the lobes where I keep the things I love always feel like they’re just being asked to pay attention to a constant stream of new and shiny things that are otherwise devoid of substance. During their performance, you can almost see how these songs were written: Every minute or so, there’s a new “Hey guys check this out” moment.

And sure, some of those nuggets are clever, but I’m not so sure about the lasting replay value of this stuff. Because once I’ve checked them all out, what then?

I had intended to avoid Annuals entirely during what I assumed was bound to be their awkward indie rock adolescence, but whoops, occasionally one of those little brats will turn out to be a precocious wunderkind. Let’s start with Adam Baker: He’s as competent a frontman as I’ve ever seen for his age, especially considering that he’s tethered down by guitars and a keyboard. His delivery is part yelp and part emo-whine, but the most impressive part is that he was able to write pop songs that expertly glue the six-piece ensemble together even when there are four dudes playing drums.

Hailing from Brooklyn gave this four-piece a CMJ home-field advantage. Unfortunately they never really took advantage of it, except for one obnoxious girl in the front row who shrieked for every song. Playing heavily guitar driven rock with harmonies that would gradually shift in and out of focus, the lead singer dwelled on falsetto-driven vocals that seemed to contradict his taste for distortion penetrating guitar solos. The second guitarist mostly focused on turning his reverb way up and engineering really slow notes that would dispel into layers of granular background noise. The latter he achieved by spending a decent amount of time hunched over on his knees and fiddling with an assortment of knobs. The group’s frontman was the only member who seemed to process any sort of emotion or expression, the others just listlessly thrumming along in perfect rhythm. This made it difficult to respond in any positive way to their innocuous and placid sound. That is, unless you were already a groupie.

Power chords akin to Whitesnake and monotonic pointillistic bass lines that evoked the Strokes were this London quartet’s calling card. Added on were anguished and self-involved lyrics that sometimes became morbid or drab and resentful. Singing in what began as a grumbled, mumbled, voice, the lead singer took on a more euphonious tone as the set progressed and he honed in his vocals around the intended notes. Heavy synthesizers permeated all their songs, either sounding like icicles and serving as decorative accents or calming amorphous swaths of light and adding background. Singing usually took precedence for the lead singer, letting his guitar hang loosely during verses and only picking it up to play final garnishes. When he did dig in to it, he pulled heavy on his whammy bar, letting his guitar snarl before singing. But more often than not it was the relentless beating bass line that covered any cantabile cadence.

Playing dreary treble soaked guitar rock, Violens’ sound drew heavily from the Smiths and Morissey. The lead singer’s mumbled, somber melodies were distant and detached, as if singing the songs recreated whatever melancholy motives went into writing them. Super-synthesized keys backed up the heavier guitar sounds, usually in wishy-washy smothering chords. Though the songs were consistently minor-toned, the bass player’s melodic lines hinted at reconciling whatever had got them down to begin with. More interesting rhythms populated most of their songs too, giving you a sense that they were trying to expand the indie rock sound rather than just master it.

//Blogs

Adventure Games As Theater and 'the Charnel House Trilogy'

// Moving Pixels

"The Charnel House Trilogy casts the player as an actor in a performance where the script is uncovered as performed. In doing so, it's throwing off an older design paradigm and creating a better work for it.

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