Though Minus the Bear have always played melodic indie pop, the Seattle quintet deserves credit for consistently thinking outside the box. On their debut EP This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic and first full-length Highly Refined Pirates, conventional guitar riffs were replaced with deft fingertapping, while Menos El Oso found the band opting for a dreamier, dancier pop sensibility, trading the finger taps for stuttering drum breaks. With Planet Ice, the group’s third full-length, that dreamy, atmospheric aspect is more deeply explored, as shimmering guitar textures and broad sheets of icy synth provide a sonic counterpart to the frigid landscape on the album’s cover.
A bit of the chopped-up guitar samples that permeated Menos El Oso open the upbeat “Burying Luck,” a crisp and glistening track that contains all the hallmarks of classic Minus the Bear: tight musicianship, an almost complete aversion to distortion, and Jake Snider’s earnest, yet evocative vocals. The clean plucks of guitar that open “Ice Monster” are much less like a towering Yeti than another musical beast, namely Tortoise. Its graceful and sweet rhythmic exercise gives way to a relatively straightforward rock chorus, yet the harder breakdown is fleeting, as the band swiftly returns to a wintry ambience.
A DNTEL-like glitch sample drives “Knights,” one of the most immediate and catchy tracks on Planet of Ice. At once danceable and somewhat prog, particularly given the space age guitar sounds and escalated soloing, “Knights” is one of a few moments of sheer ass-kicking intensity. By comparison, “White Mystery” is much more subdued and sexual, particularly lyrically, which is a definite plus considering the relative lack of indie rock booty jams. That said, the band is at their most exciting churning out the sludgy grooves of “Dr. L’ling,” a song which finds the group lending musical backup to their newfound penchant for facial hair. Likewise, “Double Vision Quest” has a sexy strut that soon swirls into a vortex of effects.
The album closes on the nine minute epic “Lotus,” which combines organ-like guitar effects, feedback and various other chiming, glossy textures. With each successive album, Minus The Bear focuses as much, if not more, on textures and sonic exploration as they do on songwriting. Planet Of Ice has myriad craters and caverns through which to explore, leaving no two listening experience exactly alike.
MP3: “Throwin’ Shapes”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.