The appeal of Seattle’s Minus the Bear has always lain with the fact that the band’s music has managed to be both steadfastly loyal to the past and incredibly futuristic. Albums like 2002’s Highly Refined Pirates, Menos el Oso from 2005, and last year’s stopgap compilation Acoustics showed off the group’s brand of mathy post-emo rock. With their intricately-layered guitars, complex rhythms, and prominent drums, Minus the Bear s
eemed heavily indebted to mid-‘90s artists like Dismemberment Plan, Sunny Day Real Estate, and American Football. However, despite being associated with the post-grunge era, Minus the Bear’s music, particularly 2007’s Planet of Ice, has also served as a good predictor of new trends in rock. The quintet’s heavy use of Talking Heads-style synths with angular post-punk swagger has foreshadowed the work of groups like Editors, Mew, and Suckers.
The musicianship displayed on Omni is still very impressive. Minus The Bear have always got by on their talent for building spiraling, inter-wrapped melodies of icy guitar and computer-programmed drums, and all of that is in place. However as before, despite how technically impressive the quintet is, they still have a hard time latching in to the listener. Omni suffers significantly by not having any really memorable moments - its atmosphere is impressive and is remarkably distant from influences, but the record can honestly be a bit of a chore to listen to. Minus The Bear's sound is so chiseled, so sterilized, that the hormone-fueled emotions they are singing about are lost in the mix.
Indie rock has often had an uneasy relationship with sex. While some bands in that realm are capable of carnality and seduction, many would rather let the sonics do the work, and lyrically, it can be tough to reconcile base sensations with music that prides itself on its intelligence. In this context comes Omni, a record of lite-funk trappings and lyrics about the pleasures of the flesh that would be sketchy enough as a debut from a band trying to get that Maroon 5 money. But for a veteran band like Minus the Bear, newly signed to Dangerbird Records and known in the past for knotted, prog-spiked populist indie, it's a move of baffling awkwardness.