Subtracting Expectations: A Review of Minus the Bear’s Infinity Overhead
Posted September 3, 2012on:
Known for bridging the gap between dance-pop and guitar virtuosity, Minus the Bear are one of the best sounding bands of their generation. They aren’t regarded as noteworthy songwriters, but as immensely talented musicians, which is a blessing and a curse (see: SRV). As veterans of the indie-prog scene, Minus the Bear won’t surprise anyone these days, which is a pretty big bummer, since so much of their sound is (was?) defined by experimentation and exploration.
I’ll start with this: the left side of Infinity Overhead sounds great. The right side is a little muddled, but that’s more for personal reasons. Honestly, I don’t remember my last ear infection, but I do remember they’re not pleasant. It’s funny, a kid with such bad ears growing up makes a point to listen to as much music as possible as an adult. I thought I grew out of these episodes, but I thought wrong. So, most of Infinity Overhead was listened to with only one headphone in place, when not on stereo. This is not the way to enjoy Minus the Bear, but I volunteered this review, and I made do.
Infinity Overhead is their first album since 2010s disappointing Omni, their second on Dangerbird records and their fourth release produced by former member Matt Bayles, including their psychedelic masterpiece Planet of Ice (2007, Suicide Squeeze). Thanks mostly to producer Bayles, Infinity Overhead is a step in the right direction. Gone are the obvious (and desperate) attempts for alternative radio-play that plagued Omni, replaced with trademark MtB guitar acrobatics and loop-pedal experimentation. The second half of “Lies and Eyes” is where we get our first taste of the long awaited Dave Knudson axe-attack. Damn, does it taste good.
Then again: it’s good, not the best. And Dave Knudson is the best. He is responsible for opening the world of two-handed tapping beyond hair-metal gods such as Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhodes; bringing rock’s use of live looping techniques closer to electronica and hip hop than ever before or since. Basically, I’m hard pressed to find a more conceptually and technically talented guitarist in modern rock. Should he be relegated to a bend solo? Is it unfair to expect consistent greatness from a consistently great artist?
The album proceeds to scratch the necessary itches: “Diamond Lightning” starts as a low-flying jam that builds until a dramatic crescendo; “Zeros” features a conversational guitar solo; “Empty Party Rooms” has the lush feel of a Minus the Bear pop banger, and so on. These moments are excellent when compared to the album’s lows, notably the pushy atheist anthem “Heaven is a Ghost Town” and the shitty action movie soundtrack baiting “Lonely Gun”.
They bring it around by the closer and standout track “Cold Company”. One of the hardest songs the band has written, “Cold Company” is the most complete and prog-satisfying offering on Infinity Overhead. This is a song that will tear the house down when performed.
I really hate it when people want to write off a new album from an established band and only compare it to their previous works. Minus the Bear are the exception to my rule. Diamond Lightning is a more-than-competent album from a standout, veteran band. I’m certain there are more layers to this album, so I’ll spend more time with it, and I’m certain they’re still one of the best active live bands today. Don’t be fooled, though. A return to form doesn’t mean a return to quality.
Who knows, maybe all the good stuff is panned to the right.
Peter Lillis is Managing Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He has ear drops, and hopefully it will clear up in a week.