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Minus the Bear
Hard work, compromise, intelligence, patience, restraint. Any band that conspicuously flashes those attributes might as well have a stage banner that reads, “We Are Boring.” But those info-economy values don’t have to kill the rock—not if they are used to shape rather than strangle. Minus the Bear has been tackling this problem for about a half-decade, and the results have been interesting enough: 2001’s This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic was a punctuation mark for nerdy ’90s indie rock; 2002’s Highly Refined Pirates gave it more groove; and 2004’s tidy They Make Beer Commercials Like This EP hinted at where the Dismemberment Plan could’ve gone if it had stuck together. Each successive disc didn’t necessarily represent a significant leap, but Minus the Bear kept its rhythms snappy and its potential simmering. The new Menos el Oso seems to answer any lingering questions about the Seattle band: It’s not hiding any white-hot geniuses, but it certainly knows how to apply a sharp work ethic when given three months to make an album. “The Game Needed Me” sets a thoughtful tone with a stuttering, dubby rhythm and well-edited lyrics by frontman Jake Snider. “We’re all just selling time/You got a lot to lose/The paper is a ticking clock/You got a lot to lose,” he sings, suggesting some sort of cubicle-farm tension. The song’s weird, sliding guitar riff has certainly been ProTooled, but not to excess. Tech Age touches are in abundance elsewhere (“The Fix” and “Michio’s Death Drive,” for instance, are deeply indebted to the code-dump sounds of Don Caballero’s American Don), but Snider’s melodies are just pliable enough to ensure that the disc offers tunes instead of compositions. And when the musical combinations are obvious—the snow-day paean “Hooray” mixes indie tenderness with prog-metal breakdowns, and the special-victims-unit tale “El Torrente” is part IDM mood-piece, part rave-up—the finished results still hang together. If there’s a conflict, it comes when the songs brush up against true-blue pop accessibility. Minus the Bear always pulls them back from that fate—not hard, but just hard enough.—Joe Warminsky