Written by: Stephen Kondracki, Special to CC2K
Minus the Bear’s innovative style is admirable, their talent is undeniable, and they have shown few signs of wavering, but the problem is that they tend to leave listeners adrift in a sometimes chaotic world of electrodes. It can even devolve, at times, to the point where the listener loses track of the fact that the band is indeed a band (the kind that plays guitars and performs live) as opposed to a studio concoction. They thankfully manage to live up to their recordings in person, but this could alienate and bore some concert-goers just as easily as it could impress and excite others.
One listen to their latest LP, Planet of Ice, reveals that they have opted to trade in most of their former potential for a more serious sound that doesn’t always lend itself well to what initially attracted us in the first place: hilarious song titles and equally ponderous sound clashes, the part of their popularity that isn’t just a novelty. Here their sound refuses to significantly stray from that of their previous work. Perhaps the only noticeable signs of change are a tendency towards more electronics and a heightened progressive rock rationale.
The album swiftly mellows out with “Ice Monster,” a treatment of straightforward alternative rock inflated by the spacey sounds of keyboardist (and new band member) Alex Rose, amended by a hip-hop inspired interlude and a surge of a hard rocking coda. The transition between “Ice Monster” and the trippy “Knights” is one of the most intriguing, though not entirely musical, portions of Planet of Ice. We are treated to a delightfully creepy sound production that will undoubtedly remind listeners of the good old days of tangible compact discs and their tendency to skip, sometimes in uncanny rhythmic coincidence with the music (old-schoolers who are still listening to an actual CD might be fooled into thinking that their unblemished disc is already on the fritz). “Knights” continues forward with the first glimpse of the band’s small step in the direction of tonal oddity. Fans of the Mars Volta will likely be pleased.
The drum-and-bass-centric “White Mystery” follows, displaying the tight lid that bassist Cory Murchy and drummer Erin Tate keep on the group. The song also features more of the atmospheric qualities that the band seems to have embraced on this entire record – echoing vocals and effects-laden guitar layers abound in the song’s entrancingly repetitive latter half. “Dr. L’Ling,” a seven-minute mini-opus ensues as the listener is treated to the impressive guitar work of Snider and fellow guitarist Dave Knudson, whose colossally different yet equally mind-blowing guitar playing with his previous band, hardcore-math-metal pioneers Botch, suggests a level of mastery and innovation that most six-stringers can barely fathom (this fact alone makes this and any other Minus the Bear song or album well worth purchasing).
“When We Escape” and “Double Vision Quest” begin to bring the album to a culmination. The two similar songs each feature some impressive melodic hooks and some outright hard-rocking classic moments – a more than welcome reprieve from the oft-used atmospheric droning served up in the middle tracks of the album. Unfortunately, the finale, “Lotus,” reiterates these moments for a staggering eight minutes. A substantial portion of this time can be considered utterly unimportant, though worth suffering through for the rewarding final moments of the song.
The sheer strength of the band’s previous EPs suggests that perhaps their style lends itself more to music fans when taken in smaller doses. Planet of Ice is by all means an excellent LP, but omitting a few of the more tiring moments (and adding some more comical song titles) would have yielded a phenomenal EP.