Minus The Bear
Seattle is a weird place. It has postcard worthy scenery - mountains, water, skyline - when you can see it. Most of the time the place is enveloped in a gray, relentless mist. It's not like the rain in most places - that pours then it's done. No, in Seattle this gloomy wetness continues, nearly unabated, from October through June. It's damn depressing.
Musically, there seem to be two distinct responses. One is nihilistic, like Garage or Grunge. The other, almost contradictory, is a goofy kind of headiness that comes from too much time indoors (and no doubt lacking a sufficient amount of vitamin D). Minus The Bear is the latter. The group took its name from an in-joke about the '80s TV show B.J. And The Bear. Are they serious?
Early on, Minus The Bear was known for 'humorous' song titles ("Wanna Throw Up? Get Me Naked"). These jokes garnered attention but they failed to get the group taken seriously - that's a surprise. Newer material received more sedate titles.
The EP "This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic" arrived in '01. The following year, Minus The Bear issued their full-length "Highly Refined Pirates." A pair of EPs marked the group's '04 efforts, "Bands Like It When You Yell 'Yar' At Them" (containing tracks from "Highly Refined Pirates," an acoustic demo and a pair of new songs) and "They Make Beer Commercials Like This." Minus The Bear's sophomore full-length album "Meso El Oso" came next.
The group's keyboardist and producer, Matt Bayles, left in '06 to focus on production work. Alex Rose, who'd been the engineer on the group's "Menos El Oso" album was installed. The following year, Minus The Bear issued their third major studio effort, "Planet Of Ice."
2002 Highly Refined Pirates
2005 Menos el Oso
2007 Planet Of Ice
2012 Infinity Overhead
Imagine a solo Sting trying to do a progressive version of the Police. That's Minus The Bear. They change time signatures, move from one key to another, alter the tempo, flip the arrangement and do all the sort of things Prog Rock bands do. They have the talent to pull this off seamlessly most of the time. To their credit they are not as ponderous or overblown as many of their contemporaries - largely because they tone-down their presentation. There is a certain imaginative lightness that rolls through their best work. And no doubt that's why they have their fans.
Depending on the song, Snider affects a dreamy disconnect or a strident Sting-like cadence, as if he's straining to be heard above the din. Knudson seems to be channeling Andy Summers (from the New Animals, Soft Machine, the Police and beyond). He regularly uses Prog Rock trappings and psychedelic overtones. It can be very stylish and cerebral.
With their Prog tendencies relatively in check, "Planet Of Ice" is the group's best effort to date. "Burying Luck," "Throwin' Shapes" and even the progressive "Knights" have broad appeal. "Meso El Oso" is nearly identical but neither the songs nor arrangements are as strong. "Highly Refine Pirates" goes off on too many tangents to be effective. The tracks are not nearly as clever as their titles. In fact, they're kind of disappointing. The EPs are best viewed as the band indulging their Prog Rock yearnings.