Minus the Bear, 'Infinity Overhead'
By Jonathan Nelson
August 30, 2012
Jonathan Nelson writes on theology and music. He currently resides in Durham, NC, and is pursuing graduate work at Duke Divinity School.
Infinity Overhead is the fifth full-length record of Seattle-based Minus the Bear. It is also their strongest and best. Minus the Bear is a prog-pop-rock fivesome that has played around with their sound since forming in 2001. On 2005’s Menos el Oso, they emphasized the rock element. On 2007’s Planet of Ice, they emphasized the prog in prog-rock. On their last release, Omni (2010), they greatly accented their pop sensibilities. With Infinity Overhead, Minus the Bear offers an even-handed set of songs that showcase what Minus the Bear does best.
Minus the Bear’s last full-length, Omni, was a bit of a departure for the band. Former founding member Matt Bayles produced the two records before Omni, Menos el Oso and Planet of Ice. With Omni, Minus the Bear went in a new direction—eschewing much of what makes Minus the Bear’s unique sound. Experimenting with keyboards overcast the band’s intricate interplay of guitars and keyboards. Drummer Erin Tate puts it this way: “I look at it like when we started this band we were building a house with the first three records, then with Omni we decided to go to a beach house. Now, with Infinity Overhead, we are back working on our house.”
The foundations of said house are immediately clear to any long-time Minus the Bear fan. Many fans have and will recognize some of the elements that made Menos el Oso such a critical success: the smooth interplay of guitar and keyboard, stunning guitar work, catchy hooks, and thumping beats. But Infinity Overhead is no thoughtless replication of prior work. Here, with Bayles back in the helm, Minus the Bear more confidently employs all their best tricks. For example, the keyboards on the album opener “Steel and Blood” recall the experimentation of Omni. But this time, they are set within a complex song structure that showcases the immense talent of all members. This is case-in-point on Infinity Overhead and it demonstrates that, on this album, Minus the Bear is confident in what they do well but not resigned to merely repeat old tricks.
All five members of Minus the Bear are fantastic in their own right. Yet, it never sounds as if these musicians are fighting for the spotlight. Instead, they work together with seamless fluidity. This is what makes Minus the Bear a great band and makes Infinity Overhead such a stunning listen from beginning to end. The band works especially well with the somewhat dark pop treat “Lies and Eyes.” The guitar work weaves in between keyboards to create smooth textures. Throughout, guitarists Knudson and Snider demonstrate their mastery of the fret-board. Bassist Murchy adds a thumping glow while keyboardist Rose deepens and brightens the texture. Vocalist/guitarist Snider sings pop melodies while drummer Tate steadies the otherwise overwhelming mix.
Another song that exemplifies how Minus the Bear is working at their peak is on the rocking closer “Cold Company.” Beginning with fan-favorite guitar-tapping over a bed of synths, the song stomps in with a thumping riff. With a steady dose of sinuous guitar-tapping, layered synths, booming drums, and soaring vocals, Minus the Bear shows how they can be heavy without compromising their complicated songwriting. As a closer, “Cold Company” shows that Minus the Bear still has its chops and makes the listener want to start again. While Minus the Bear’s incredible musicianship dominates on the closer, it prompts the listener to listen again to all the more subtle expressions of the band’s excellence.
In the current music scene, it is not difficult to find good musicians. It is easy to find a great guitar riff, a creative chord progression, a beautiful melody, or a brilliant composition. It is more difficult to find a great band. Oftentimes, bands showcase a certain talent like the various mutations of Smashing Pumpkins only serve to demonstrate Billy Corgan’s gift for melody or like how Muse is often a front for Matt Bellamy’s talent. What is spectacular about Minus the Bear is how their individual talent comes together in such sophisticated songwriting. Clearly, Infinity Overhead is a strong addition to a house built on steady grounds. But with the addition of Infinity Overhead, Minus the Bear advances their architecture and verges on palatial.