Minus The Bear, Menos El Oso
(Suicide Squeeze, CD)
Seattle's post-hardcore quintet Minus the Bear are known as much for their absurd song titles as for their music. Unfortunately this may have hindered their career. For some, a song called "Hey, Wanna Throw Up? Get Me Naked" is distracting, if not outright annoying. But the band's penchant for linguistic juvenilia has little to do with their crafty, impeccably performed music.
The band's sound is built on interlocking guitar figures and a propulsive rhythm section. Members cut their teeth in a variety of technical hardcore groups before swapping shrewd menace for brainy cool. Fans of detail-obsessed indie acts such as Don Caballero and Karate will find plenty to enjoy on MTB's latest, Menos el Oso.
The new disc, which completely jettisons ironic song names, kicks off with "The Game Needed Me." A silvery obelisk of crystalline guitars and dynamic percussion, the tune grabbed me right out of the gate. "We don't have money, so we can't lose it," vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider sings over compelling, start-stop riffs. His delivery is a disaffected croon, half melodic, half spoken. I'm normally not a fan of self-conscious detachment, but here, at least, it works.
The latticework melodies of "Drilling" are supported by bobbing bass guitar and an intriguing drum pattern. The song's picturesque lyrics read like a slacker travelogue: "This is us on a western Atlantic coast / With no place to be, just taking in the sea," Snider plainly intones.
A slice 'n' dice breakbeat opens "The Fix." The tune's mechanical stutter-funk and terse rhythmic pulse achieves a musical cold fusion. "El Torrente"'s guitar blips are framed by a dub-style groove reminiscent of Radiohead's "Airbag." "Please let my girl go without knowing what I know / Don't let her read this day on my face when I come home," Snider sings in his most affecting performance.
"Michio's Death Drive" features contrapuntal guitars cribbed from Robert Fripp's early '80s playbook. Musically it's complex stuff, but MTB's punk pedigree keeps the nerd factor in check. "Fulfill the Dream" finds the group firing on all pistons, with spiky axework and rock-solid beats shoring up Snider's tale of disappointing hook-ups.
To their credit, Minus the Bear's meticulousness doesn't get in the way of their tunes. And now that they've dropped the goofy song titles, perhaps people will focus on their musical strengths. Catch them with Thursday, MeWithoutYou and We're All Broken on Wednesday, April 26, at the Higher Ground Ballroom.