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Aggressive crashing drums, intricate and textured guitar lines, and earnest pop songwriting collide—and in the opening track of Minus the Bear’s latest release, Infinity Overhead, vocalist and guitarist Jake Snider sings, “Two become one / Cacaphony of a car crash / Steel and blood, and it’s over with the silence” in what is possibly the most ironically poetic detailing of a car crash since Brand New’s “Limousine.” It’s not exactly lamenting the fictional drunk-driving disaster its lyrics speak of, but not romanticizing it, either. Instead, the song haunts you with its casualness; in truth, it doesn’t even sound all that serious.
This mildly satirical simplicity has been the ongoing appeal of Minus the Bear, a Seattle quintet who have been releasing music since 2001 and who are known for their scorching fretwork and chugging power chords. In an almost paradoxical collision, they make music that sounds simultaneously arbitrary and rigid. Undeniably complex time signatures, creative riffs, and an endless assortment of different guitar tones indicate an intimidating level of talent at work.
That being said, Infinity Overhead doesn’t break any boundaries or venture into any new territory. Truthfully, anyone expecting it to sound like anything other than a typical Minus the Bear album will be sorely disappointed. However, that doesn’t mean it should be written off entirely cynically, since it fits so perfectly into the band’s catalogue that they are already known and admired for. The album doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel but manages to enhance what has already been established, with songs like “Steel and Blood” serving as 2012′s “Pachuca Sunrise” and “Cold Company” as the louder and more passionate “My Time.” Their focus has also swung back around to their roots; no longer are they experimenting greatly with keyboards, but settling on the familiar, tried-and-true guitar-based rock of their earlier days. Simple? Perhaps. Straight-forward? Definitely. But it’s attention-grabbing, and you can sing along to perfectly crafted pop choruses that will get stuck in your head for days… and that’s all that seems to matter.
The album starts and ends on a positive note, with the aforementioned songs both holding a certain unique and thrilling power. Rough, distorted guitars and not-easily-forgotten melodies redeem an album that might be ignored in favour of previous releases, and one true hidden gem makes it all worthwhile. “Heaven is a Ghost Town” displays a characteristic level of cynicism and dry wit while also managing to catch Snider in a moment of surprising sincerity. While the overall message could be—and probably will be—widely interpreted as classic satire, the song is rather heartfelt.