Bristling with guitar acrobatics and infectious melodies, Minus the Bear’s fifth studio full-length album, Infinity Overhead, due August 28 on Dangerbird Records, is not only a return to form in direction, instrumentation and creation but also the band’s most aggressive and confident. The veteran Seattle-based fivesome reunited with former member and longtime producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, Cursive) to create a guitar-laden 10-track record that is heavy both on technicality and pop songcraft and showcases the band doing what they do best – interesting, guitar-based, big sounding rock. The band is giving a sneak peek into the album with a minute-long trailer on their site: Minusthebear.com.
“We wanted to branch out on the last record and explore some more musical directions and work with someone we didn’t know,” says guitarist David Knudson about the band’s 2010 LP, Omni, produced by Joe Chiccarelli. “That was very educational and eye opening but at the same time we weren’t in our wheel house.” Drummer Erin Tate adds: “I look at it like when we started this band we were building a house with the first three records, then with Omni we decided to go to a beach house. Now, with Infinity Overhead, we are back working on our house.” Bassist Cory Murchy succinctly exclaims: “We didn’t go anywhere, but we’re back.”
While the smooth and sensual Omni saw the band experimenting with keyboards and a new producer, Infinity Overhead sees the quintet building on their trademark sound and putting the focus back on guitars. And it’s the guitars that really drive this record. Knudson and Snider color each song with layers and layers of intricate and inventive guitar textures, tones and noise. There’s the usual chugging power chords, string bending, finger tapping, searing fretwork and circular riffs that the band is known for but while the album also features some of Minus the Bear’s most complex guitar playing to date, including some of their gnarliest guitar tones ever as evidenced on “Lonely Gun,” it is also their most accessible, filled to the brim with big pop hooks and catchy choruses.
In order to make the record they had in mind, Minus the Bear reunited with Matt Bayles, former founding member and producer of the band’s acclaimed albums, Planet Of Ice and Menos El Oso. “Stepping back into the studio with Matt felt really comfortable,” says Knudson. “There was no education or learning curve, he knows us so well and how we work that it was just right back into the swing of things.” Murchy adds: “It was like old times, but both Matt and the band have had time to work outside with other people and we were both able to bring back what we learned and apply it to the old feeling.”
The band, consisting of Jake Snider (vocals, guitar), David Knudson (guitar), Cory Murchy (bass), Alex Rose (synths, vocals) and Erin Tate (drums), went to work on their fifth album together in their hometown Seattle. From January to April of 2012 they holed up at London Bridge Studio and Bayles’ Red Room Recording to craft a sonically complex yet melodically rich mature album. Many of the tracks have a foreboding feeling and as Snider reveals, the lyrics were influenced by the direction of the music. “I don’t know if this is our darkest record,” Snider says. “It has more contrast but it definitely has some bright points. The darks are darker and the brights are brighter.”
From the opening blast of the aptly named “Steel and Blood,” it is obvious it is a more aggressive LP than the band’s previous efforts. A chugging, distorted guitar, rumbling bass, pounding drums and a slithering guitar line collide together like the car wreck Snider sings about: “Two become one/ cacophony of a car crash/ steel and blood/ and it’s over with a silence.” On “Lies and Eyes,” Snider sings about deception in a relationship over stabbing, frenetic guitars and spacey synths. The dancey song quickly builds to a soaring and tense climax of piercing guitar and urgent drumming before settling back down into a bed of tremolo guitar and Snider singing “Pick up the pieces of these words shattered across the floor/ with careful hands you know these words are sharp/ and you can read the blood.”
Infinity Overhead takes its title from the majestic “Diamond Lightning,” which Snider describes as having “an acid trip kinda vibe” and is a memory from his high school days. As he puts it “it incorporates a lot of our breadth and what we are capable of.” However, each song demonstrates the band’s sonic dexterity. From the out of control tropical-esque vibe of “Toska,” with its clattering drums, alternate pickings and pull ons, to the jaunty, acoustic “Listing”, to the shimmering melancholia of “Heaven Is A Ghost Town,” and the poppy synth-fueled “Zeros” to the hard hitting rock of album closer “Cold Company,” it might be the most varied record of the band’s career.
Since forming in Seattle in 2001, Minus the Bear has worked relentlessly over the past decade to build a large and devoted following worldwide with consistent releases and a non-stop touring regimen. They have proven to be a powerful musical force that has outlasted trends, the changing musical landscape, and a volatile record industry. Their Dangerbird debut, Omni, debuted in the Billboard Top 50 and over the last 11 years they have released four albums and several EPs on varying labels such as Suicide Squeeze, Arena Rock and Polyvinyl. The band has played countless sold out venues throughout the world both large and small and toured the globe over including North America, Europe, U.K., Japan and Australia, in addition to unforgettable performances at every high profile U.S. festival like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza and Sasquatch!. It is no doubt testament to the band’s DIY beginnings, impressive relationship with their fans and inventive music that they remain a beloved group with an unyielding fanbase that continues to grow with each album. They have done this all on their own terms and with the release of Infinity Overhead, they are at the height of their powers.