I am still having an abundance of feelings about Minus the Bear calling it quits at the end of this year. Just ask my partner, who has had to deal with me throwing on one of their albums at any given moment and quietly having a crisis. Everything appears fine on the outside, but inside I’m screaming. Thankfully, like me, he also has good taste in tunes, so he doesn’t seem to be so perturbed (by the music at least – whether or not the high pitched noises of distress bother him I have no idea).
The band’s current lineup – Jake Snider (guitar, lead vocals), Dave Knudson (guitar), Cory Murchy (bass), and Alex Rose (keyboards, backing vocals) – hit the road for their farewell tour starting in Nashville in early October, and close out their career together with three shows in their native Seattle at the historic Showbox.
They’ve promised to dig deep into their catalogue to give fans a proper send off during this tour, and if I had it my way they’d play every album in their entirety. So, I’m looking forward to this seven hour long concert. Jury is still out on whether the band is or not.
Everyone has their favourite albums, and it’s not always based on what is necessarily “the best.” I personally hold albums in higher regard based on how they make me feel, when I discovered them, etc. I don’t profess to be an expert in matters like reviewing music, I don’t know enough about it other than I like what I like – I’ll leave the more technical stuff to Pitchfork. But I can assure you that I’ll be just as verbose!
6. Highly Refined Pirates
I know that there are a lot of people who might cry blasphemy at this, as it’s viewed as the quintessential Minus the Bear album. But on top of that, it’s also their first and I feel as if while this may have been where the band got their start and began establishing their loyal fanbase, they’ve grown a lot since 2002. Haven’t we all?
Their sound got tighter, and so did their lyrics. I do love this album, don’t get me wrong, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy their more recent albums more. I have to be in a very specific mood to listen to Highly Refined Pirates. With song titles like Monkey!!!Knife!!!Fight!!! and Booyah Achieved (and my personal favourite, Get Me Naked 2: The Electric Bugaloo) a cursory glance at the back of the cover might be off-putting for some.
The thing with Highly Refined Pirates is that I don’t feel like it’s very accessible. Yes, if you’re already into Minus the Bear then this album is great for you. But I wouldn’t throw this on at random at a party, or recommend this to someone who was just getting into the band. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! You want to make music for you and your fans, but I do also feel that in becoming more accessible that their music got better – richer in its themes (I mean, most of the songs are still about girls and relationships), and in the technical nitty-gritty.
You can mature and still retain the same edge that you started out with if you’re talented enough. And Minus the Bear are certainly not without their talents.
5. Planet of Ice
Released in 2007, Minus the Bear went on tour last year in support of the tenth anniversary of this album. I am so bummed that I missed out on it, as I would’ve loved to have seen the majority of these songs live!
Planet of Ice was the first album to feature Alex Rose on keyboards (and saxophone) after departure of original member Matt Bayles. The album was Minus the Bear’s ode to the progressive rock albums of the 1970s, and let me tell you, they did a fantastic job here. They very obviously sound like Minus the Bear, but if you listen carefully enough you can hear elements of Pink Floyd, Yes, and King Crimson reverberating throughout the entire album. It’s a magnificent infusion of Minus the Bear’s brand of guitar-driven math rock and concept albums of yore (who the heck says “yore” anymore?)
I love this album to pieces, and in recent years it’s really grown on me – with Dave Knudson’s brand of guitar playing being a particular high point. I only rank it so low because MTB’s other albums resonated with me personally a little bit more than this. But I would lovingly recommend this album to anyone as a starting point, especially if there has been a distinct lack of Rush in your life – which there probably has been, because they quietly broke up a couple of years ago.
Sidenote – when are my favourite bands going to stop breaking up? Because I’m not okay with this.
4. Menos el Oso
This honestly could’ve been number five, as I spent a lot of time listening to both Planet of Ice and Menos el Oso in an attempt to figure which one I enjoyed more. If I’m being honest, it’s a tie between the two, but one of them has be at least one step in front of the other. And Menos el Oso wins this round!
Menos el Oso (literally Minus the Bear in Spanish) is the band’s second full length album, and contains some of my favourite songs by the band, Pachuca Sunrise and Hooray, which is what gave it a leg up on Planet of Ice. While I certainly don’t limit my listening of Minus the Bear to one season, their music has always evoked summer imagery in my mind. And this is one of their albums that does it best.
The band seems to have grown up a lot between their first album and this one – gone are the zany song titles, but their genre spanning talents still remain. Minus the Bear, though indie rock darlings, always seem to have bristled at being shoved into one box simply by virtue of not being easy to define musically, and this is always apparent when listening to Menos el Oso. It retains that quintessential Minus the Bear sound I mentioned before that was established on Highly Refined Pirates, but gives us some insight into the direction that the band would take themselves in for future albums.
3. Infinity Overhead
Recently I’ve been listening to the songs Lies and Eyes and Toska from this album with such startling frequency that I am surprised that no one has called an intervention yet. (Please note that is not an invitation to do so, do not attempt to take this album from me I will fight you.)
With elements of their previous release, Omni, still present here in it’s more synth driven songs, I think that the band found the perfect union of that album and what many of their fans thought of as being the Minus the Bear sound. Infinity Overhead is ambitious in its scope in that regard – I don’t know a whole lot of Minus the Bear fans (then again I really only know about three, personally) who liked Omni, and this album seems like a compromise.
Guitarist, vocalist, and lyricist Jake Snider has always had a very profound way with words and it seems particularly apparent in the tracks on this album. “Two become one, cacophony of a car crash,” and “liquid concrete under our feet, trippin’ on the constellations we see,” from Steel and Blood and Diamond Lightning in particular are personal favourites, with the latter seeming to be a fan favourite as well. The words are weighty, even in their simplicity. You don’t need to break out the five dollar words to have them hit you directly in the chest.
Speaking of Snider, I find this album to be a highlight of his vocally. He’s always been in possession of a beautifully textured voice that is as layered as the riffs that he and Dave Knudson bestow upon us, and is at times haunting, but I feel on Infinity Overhead his vocals shine through particularly well. It’s certainly come through on other albums, but this is a great one to listen to if you want to get lost in his voice, if nothing else.
Little did we know that this would be the band’s last full length album before calling it a day. I think that VOIDS might actually contain some of the best music that they’ve ever written.
VOIDS had the biggest gap between albums that Minus the Bear have ever had, and while at the time I was disgruntled because I was desperately craving new material, I’m glad they took their time with this one. There were also personal and professional reasons this one took so long too, and allegedly this was when they began mulling over what the band’s future would like look.
By nature of being their latest album, it’s a lot more mature than their previous offerings, they grew a lot as a band between the release of VOIDS and Infinity Overhead. Things like a new label, fatherhood, and your original drummer (Erin Tate) leaving the band are bound to make for different, more introspective, more mature music. This is also the first album to have tracks where Snider doesn’t provide lead vocals – Call the Cops, Tame Beasts, and Robotic Heart give Alex Rose a chance to shine beyond the synthesizer. While it’s not surprising that he can sing, Jake’s vocals are so intrinsically tied to the band’s sound that it’s almost a little shocking to hear someone else on the lead vocal track. But the fact that they branched out in this regard was a nice surprise on a first listen.
“Moody” is how I would best describe the tone of VOIDS, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Minus the Bear have always contrasted their dark lyrics and imagery with upbeat instrumentals, and VOIDS delivers that in spades. Cory Murchy’s basslines, particularly on the album closer Lighthouse, are also high points of VOIDS and help to set that darker tone. And considering that I love me a good bassline, this was a great treat for my ears.
The album contains some of my favourite lyrics just not from the band, but probably of all time. From Last Kiss’s “She looked away and she never looked back” to “Counted sheep `til they started counting me” in What About the Boat, the pictures that Snider paints with his lyrics are so incredibly vivid, and are words that at any given moment are likely stuck in my head.
Seriously, just message me and ask me what’s going on in my head. I’ll likely send you a link to a song from this album.
You never forget your first.
I’ve spoken about how this album was my introduction to Minus the Bear six years ago. And even though Infinity Overhead and VOIDS were released after this, which I think musically and technically are better albums, there’s no way that I couldn’t put Omni at number one. Call it nostalgia. Call it being kind of mad at Jake for ranking it fifth (all is forgiven, my dude). I tried to look at these albums as objectively as I could, but the thought of putting anything other than Omni at number one was impossible.
In what seems like an ode to fleeting summer romances, Omni has the distinction of featuring the most songs by the band on any one album that are guaranteed to make me cry. Excuses and Fooled by the Night always leave my eyes welling up at least a little bit on any given listen. Not even necessarily due to the lyrical content, but the musical arrangement and Jake’s vocals just hit that spot right in my chest designated to make me feel emotional. And of course, Into the Mirror is on here, which was my introduction to the band and has ultimately been my favourite song of theirs for several years.
Oddly enough, the general consensus of this album from other Minus the Bear fans is that it is not good. Which I personally think is unfair, but you like what you like. The very reason that it’s my favourite (because it’s the first I heard) could very well be the reason why it wasn’t well received (it was a drastic departure from what fans expected of them). If I had been an MTB fan before I heard Omni, I may not have liked it either.
This album was the perfect introduction for me, and the music is right up my alley. There are elements of electronica and new wave which pretty much give me life as I’m a product of the 80s, so it was natural that I would be swept up in the more synth-based songs. But because of that I actually was quite shocked when I began to explore more of Minus the Bear’s catalogue to discover that this wasn’t their typical sound. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked even listening to Menos el Oso after this – was this the same band?
Ultimately, though they may have done something a little different (too polished and radio friendly some might say), I give them a lot of respect for branching out, for trying to marry their old sound with something new. There are a lot of bands that would revel in complacency, and if nothing else, Minus the Bear have always seemingly refused to do that at every opportunity.
All of that being said, as one of their more accessible albums it made getting into them and the rest of their music very easy. Talk to me about this album being one of your favourites too and we’ll be best friends forever.
Every one of Minus the Bear’s albums seems to embrace a different genre, and I think whichever one is your favourite kind of depends on what types or genres you normally gravitate toward. There’s something for everyone. Omni serves your new wave needs, if you’re into prog-rock then give Planet of Ice a listen, and VOIDS is where you will find some of the tightest and slickest riffs created by the band.
But don’t trust me. I’m biased. It’s easy to wax poetic on a band that you love. So, I strongly recommend giving them a listen for yourself.
And I would suggest doing it sooner rather than later! I’d hate for you to discover these guys after December and not have the opportunity to see them on their farewell tour. Tickets are still available for some shows – though some dates have sold out already. And if you’re going to the show in Toronto, I will see you there! I’ll be the one scream-singing along to every song while sobbing uncontrollably.