Minus the Bear: Interpretaciones del Oso

[18 February 2007]

By Michael Keefe

Minus the Bear, Plus the Remixers

The great Age of Reconfiguration marches forth, taking another small step with Interpretaciones del Oso, a disc of remixes derived entirely from Menos el Oso, the translationally eponymous 2005 album from Seattle quartet Minus the Bear. This trend has gained considerable traction here in the post-modern era, with the ubiquity of the necessary ware, both soft- and hard-, required to strip mine the ore of one artist’s material and refashion it in new and shiny ways. The finest example of this came two years ago with the Remixed version of Bloc Party’s exceptional debut, Silent Alarm. An indie rock album whose merits were aided considerably by the evocative gray-cast moods its songs engendered, the disc proved extremely well fit for the remix makeover. The treated tracks gained a second life while still remaining pretty closely linked to their sources. Since then, other acts have followed suit. One other example of a full-length reworking of an indie rock record is Cities’ Variations, which I reviewed in 2006. That disc was considerably less successful, but, then, the parent album also paled beneath the shadow of Silent Alarm.

Interpretaciones del Oso, then, is another disciple of the Bloc Party Remixed phenomenon. This time, the LP getting sliced and diced is a knockout and comes from a first-rate group of song-crafting musicians with a unique personality. Further, the re-imagineers behind this project take their reworked tracks to newer and more daring vistas than those of the previously cited efforts. This is tricky territory, though. At what point does a Minus the Bear remix cease to be a Minus the Bear song? If the source track provides only sample-sized fodder for the far-flung extrapolations of the mixolator at hand, whose song are we listening to? Are these questions important to ask, or should I just kick my Socratic ass into gear and tell you what this damn CD sounds like? (Yeah, I thought so, too.)

Well, as you may have gleaned, when comparing the offspring disc to its parent album—Oso v. OsoInterpretaciones del often bears (sorry) only a passing resemblance to Menos el; even the track listing has been rearranged. Many of the songs here are reconstructions rather than traditional remixes. Heck, any hack can lay down a dance beat over an album track, but Dark Baby’s take on “Hooray”, for instance, turns the reluctantly sunny verse of Minus the Bear’s little indie rock ditty into a foot-tapping electro-pop instrumental number. Stripping away the guitar-heavy, alt-rock chorus and all of Jake Snider’s vocals, the DNA of this particular interpretación is virtually unrecognizable. But that track is one of the greatest departures here. J. Clarke dubs up the hazy “El Torrente”, infusing da Bears’ desert-sounding song with a dose of peyote, but maintaining much of the original’s feel.

Really, though, the degree of allegiance a given remix shows to its source isn’t anywhere near as important as whether or not the new track simply sounds good. The results on Interpretaciones are a bit uneven, although favoring the positive. In the misfire category, FOG takes one of the best cuts from Menos, the crackling and shimmering “Memphis & 53rd”, and buries it in sludge. But, like “Hooray”, “Fulfill the Dream” is successfully reinvented as an instrumental electro track on Tyondai Braxton’s “Old Italy Remix”. “The Oktopus Remix” of “The Game Needed Me” takes a groovy trip-hop angle on the glorious, pensive, math-surf original, while the “P.O.S. Redo” of “Drilling” remains quite faithful by superimposing a layer of industrial crunch over its progenitor.

In the 1990s, there was indie rock and there was electronica, with a vast expanse of sonic territory in between. Listeners, too, were more often divided in their allegiances to genres. Today, the cross-pollination is total and musical styles have become lovably muttly. Guitars, synths, rock and roll, samples: In the 21st century, we dig it all. So why not let the DJs and Pro Toolers take the elements of Minus the Bears’ real band chemistry and stir up some brand new potions? Only a couple of times do these experiments blow up in their nutty professors’ faces. Mostly, though, their concoctions work. If you can divorce yourself from the expectation that this Minus the Bear album will actually sound like a Minus the Bear album, and is, instead, merely seasoned with the essence of Menos el Oso, you’ll find a fine mélange of styles all stewing together here on Interpretaciones del Oso.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/minus-the-bear-interpretaciones-del-oso/