Music

Minus the Bear: Planet of Ice

Seattle indie rock math-heads cool off on their third proper full-length, but remain rock solid.


Minus the Bear

Planet of Ice

Label: Suicide Squeeze
US Release Date: 2007-08-21
UK Release Date: 2007-08-20
Amazon
iTunes

Seattle quintet Minus the Bear used to be the kind of band whose song titles were replete with exclamation marks, assorted critters, and the use of the word "man" as a casual form of address (as in "Lemurs, Man, Lemurs"). But I'm not here to bore you with the over-played card of longing for the so-called glory days when a given band were all frisky and new. Yeah, Minus the Bear have matured since their 2001 EP debut, This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic. Their initial fire has chilled somewhat, but this hasn't been to the band's detriment. They remain rock solid and have espanded their sound.

Planet of Ice is their third proper full-length (let's not count the remix project, Interpretaciones del Oso), and Minus the Bear have discovered the wider spaces along the frozen planes. Sound molecules hang suspended in air and bounce off the glass-like planes of ice caves. I'm not saying that they've become entirely glacial in their tempos. Let's leave that to Sigur Rós. But, relative to their 2002 debut LP, Highly Refined Pirates, the band's rock attack has cooled a bit.

This actually allows more room for the guitar work of David Knudson to sparkle, bend, and chime. His sound is precise, smooth, and synthetically clean -- his tone alone should disqualify him from being a totally rad musician, and yet it's clear upon listening to his deft execution of intricate tapping techniques that he belongs in the pantheon of guitar gods typically reserved for metal shredders. Fortunately, he avoids the pat trappings of those kinds of guitarists. Instead, he combines the art/prog leanings of Jonny Greenwood with the sharp-yet-headily phrased chordings of Jesus Lizard-era Duane Denison and the loop-sampled trickery of Bill Frisell. In a word: wow. On Planet of Ice, he moves away from his earlier Eddie Van Halen-esque harmonic fret runs to become the "slowhand" of math rock. He also pretty much steals the show.

Or maybe that's obvious from the drooling-with-praise paragraph devoted entirely to a guy who comprises but 20 percent of the band's lineup. The four other dudes in Minus the Bear deserve some love, too. The rhythm section of drummer Erin Tate and Cory Murchy is a tight unit, capable of quick changes, landing square on the off beats, and spinning a mighty fine range of dynamics. And Alex Rose, on keyboards and saxophone, imbues the album with lovely atmospherics and a welcome undertone of Dark Side of the Moon. Vocalist Jake Snider is a tricky one to figure out, though. He's got a beautifully textured voice and sings emphatically enough -- sometimes just a shade below emo level over-the-topness. Still, he's always had a tendency to slip too easily into the mix, his voice becoming just another pleasing part of the whole.

Maybe it's because his lyrics are also a little slippery, a little indistinct. I mean, I dig the general vibe of lines like, "We'll watch her roll in from the south / She'll wrap her sheets 'round us", but the hell is he talking about? Or, "Wide eyed and so discrete, a maintenance touch / Makes prose from poetry and it don't mean much." Hm, I'm inclined to agree. But, from that same song, "Dr. L'Ling", I do love: "I was afraid / Of becoming a casual business man / On matters of the heart." Sure, the love-as-clothing metaphor Rose builds during the first verse is a little labored, but the pay-off is nice.

In fact, the whole album is nice. Or, perhaps what I mean is, it's easy to like. Yes, Minus the Bear used to rock us harder. But don't make the mistake of bemoaning their more mature sound on Planet of Ice, just because the band's optimal listening environment has moved from the car stereo to the living room floor. This is headphone indie rock, but with plenty of wondrous aural attractions to keep your wandering mind from straying too far. And, just in case you were worried that the band had entirely forgotten how to rock, the boys bust loose in the middle of the album's epic closer, the nearly nine-minute long "Lotus". It's a great finale to an album that is solidly quite good, falling just a step shy of excellence. Still, there are many excellent moments within, especially those created by the guitar work of David Knudson. Thanks in large part to his inventive playing, Planet of Ice offers a world of cool sounds.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image