Music and Lyrics is the title of a Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant movie. Music or Lyrics should be the subtitle to most indie music. Not often, can a band create a mix of meaningful words and sounds. More often, you’re left with witty allusions and thoughtful comments but empty melodies that usually use the same three chords. Other times, like Minus the Bear’s new album, you are left with melodies and harmonies with tension and excitement but lyrical depth that leaves one wanting.
Planet of Ice opens with a hum of noise but soon rushes into careening guitar and methodical bass lines on “Burying Luck.” Sadly, the musical interest suddenly hits a wall with Jake Snider’s mind numbing chorus, “What have you done? What have you done? What have you done?...” His voice sounds better and warmer in this one, but it’s hard to overlook the lyrics, especially when the production often throws it front and center. An interesting, albeit standard, synthesizer line tries to swoop in and rescue the song but it never again achieves the same immediacy it began with, even with the later addition of a stop and go bass and drum.
The mid-tempo lead single, “Knights,” has some of the best hooks of the album. With the aggression and bass turned down a notch, new addition, Alex Rose, is able to show his flair -- putting in a few electronic taps at key places lightening the song into something almost danceable. Not letting awkward phrasing get in the way, it jumps and stomps its way into year ears and maybe even your unwitting hips.
“Lotus,” the nearly 9 minute closing track, jingles open just like a flower. One of the sweeter, kinder, gentler songs on the album, it’s high on electronic sound effects, triangle and mellow, not forceful, guitar riffs. Heavy on the corporate motifs used throughout the album with modem like sounds beeps and chirps and lines about businessmen; this time however, something different. Snider sings, “What to do about tomorrow? Please let it come just let it come.” It’s nothing mind-blowing but it puts the album into perspective. The album is no great masterpiece but there are certainly worse albums to let wash over you and bop your head to a few times.
The first album since Matt Bayles’s departure in 2006, Planet of Ice follows the old recipe that made Menos el Oso a hit. Expert guitar work, key signature changes and electronic flourishes are all found here. Almost a superband with ex-members from Kill Sadie, Botch and Sharks Keep Moving, Minus the Bear eludes the pitfall of many other superbands -- combining lots of ideas and (mostly) 4 minute long songs into something cohesive. Planet of Ice pulls in psychedelic inflections and loosens itself up. Instrumental interludes are more meandering and relaxed. It’s the same Minus the Bear, better. It’s Minus the Bear Plus.