With the release of The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance it seemed that the odd-but-sublime altar that had been constructed to Neutral Milk Hotel could be safely realigned to point the hyperbolic gaze of the indie glitterati towards Minus Story. That album was a hypnotic set of skewed pop songs that either confounded you or made you a convert to Minus Story’s way of thinking. During the course of The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance the listener was able to hear tape loops, layered percussion and percussive sound, an ungainly but successful mix of lo-fi attitude and studio trickery, and a wall of densely layered sound that the band jokingly (?) referred to as “a wall of crap”. But through it all Minus Story kept a “gosh, we’re just glad to be here” attitude that made the music endearing. The band exuded a love of what they did, a love of the sounds that they made and, at times, what seemed to be genuine surprise at just what those disparate sounds had created. Through the richly-slanted layers of their songs came stray melodies banged out on a piano, or the accent of sleigh-bells which held a song like “won’t be fooled again” together like so much baling-wire-and-spit on a county fair Ferris wheel.
So what would Minus Story do for an encore? Was it realistic to expect the fresh-faced wide-eyed mad scientist gleam to continue once the band had been thoroughly exposed to the ravenous vultures of rock criticism and the mind dulling expanse of weeks and months of touring? It could well be argued that Minus Story did exactly the right thing to keep the wolves at bay. Instead of immediately attacking the rigors of the sophomore album they pulled the string short and released a five-song, one ghost story EP containing two new songs, two old ones and a Misfits cover. There’s just enough in the two new songs on Heaven And Hell to keep fans and critics curious about what the boys may be plotting in the backroom.
Minus Story have done the unexpected on Heaven And Hell: they’ve grown up and started to write songs with more focus on melody and control. The five songs here are more accessible than anything on The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance. It’s not as if Minus Story has decided to start writing verse-chorus-verse songs, but they have put the brakes on the more excessive tendencies of the first album. If The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance was about a “wall of crap”, than the new songs on Heaven And Hell are turning that “wall of crap” into sun-dried building blocks of usable renewable excrement.
“Heaven And Hell” opens with a gentle keyboard and the trademark falsetto of lead singer Jordan Geiger. As is the style with Minus Story, the song broods towards a larger vision—however, this time around the band eases back on the layering, creating a song most notable for its noisy guitar solo. A smoldering wall of feedback introduces “Time Wastes Itself”; a resonant keyboard lingers just underneath the vocal, slight bells and shakes hover percussively. The most notable aspect of the songs on Heaven And Hell is the focus of the band: the songs here are carefully produced and remarkable restrained, sounding more like label-mates Okkervil River than the widely flowing collection of sounds barely restrained on The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance. Frankly, a little bit of temperance does Minus Story a lot of good. Minus Story embraces the notions of melody and structure hinted at on The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance. This is certain to disappoint some listeners who will resent the band their modicum of maturation; I happen to think it sounds pretty good on them.
If the band’s intention with this EP was to whet our musical appetites for their next record, then Heaven And Hell is a success. Be sure to stick around for the ghost story at the end of the EP, it’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.