Seattle’s own Minus the Bear released their new album, Omni, on Dangerbird Records last week. Minus the Bear is a band that I slept on for far too long, despite a bunch of my friends recommending them to me for years. For whatever reason, it took me until 2009 to finally give them a listen, and I was instantly enthralled with the band’s challenging time signatures and lush, layered melodies that made albums such as Menos el Oso (my fave album) and Highly Refined Pirates absolute gems. I’m frequently drawn to bands with unique time signatures and fiercely creative songwriting, hence my newfound love for Minus the Bear.
Omni, though, is a bit different from the band’s previous output. It’s different in that this time around, the songs are a bit more straightforward and, well, more accessible. I read that unlike their previous albums, the band recorded this one in the style of a live show, that is, playing straight through each track instead of recording each song piece by piece. I hadn’t known they used that method on the other records, but it makes sense since the songs change tempo and rhythm so much.
However, with Omni, the music they created this time around is a bit less challenging and can appeal to more people, so I’m sure long time Minus the Bear fans are up in arms over the stylistic change. I, however, applaud the decision, as Omni is still filled with the same delectable melodies and instrumental precision that the band has always used.
My Time opens the disc with purpose, starting out with a drum beat before exploding into a keyboard-heavy, danceable track that sets the tone for the album perfectly.
Summer Angel starts out noisily as well, and has a pretty poppy overall sound, not that that’s a bad thing. The instrumental break about halfway through is absolutely delicious, and the way the verse structure matches the catchy music makes the song very addictive. I had the phrase my summer angel keeps me on the run in my head for a while after hearing the tune the first time.
Secret Country, the third track, is definitely one of the album’s best songs. Its driving rhythm and verses fit very well with the feel of the song; it’s more straightforward (read: less quirky) but still one of the album’s highlights. Lyrically, it brings up concepts of water and lakes, with lead singer Jake Snider delivering lines such as Now I’m reading into your intention/and I’m falling through your depth/you pull me to the water’s edge/and vanish in the black/you’re on my mind/swim through my time/as I float out to you/ I dream of your caress. I don’t usually pay much attention to lyrics, but this one seemed cool to me.
Hold Me Down is a bit of a letdown after the awesome beginning to the record of the first three tracks, but it’s still relatively solid.
Excuses has a nice keyboard squeal in the background that plays off the soothing vocal melody and guitar chords very nicely. The song has a very relaxing, calming quality to it, almost putting me in a trance and making me hallucinate that I’m in a forest somewhere with a bunch of cuddly angelic woodland critters.
Old-school Minus the Bear fans might label The Thief as their favorite track on Omni. Beginning with a characteristic Minus the Bear guitar riff and quirky beat, it evolves into a song that is more of the old sound (offbeat time signature, noodly guitars). It has a tasty instrumental jam halfway through, too. It’s definitely a highlight of the record.
Into the Mirror is solid, and it was one of the album’s first samples released to the Internet. The song bleeds right into Animal Backwards, with feedback-y guitar fuzz acting as the bridge between the two tracks. The song has a lot going on, keyboard smashes, fuzzy guitars, cascading vocals, and an overall noisy yet calm feeling. Another solid cut.
The album comes to a close with Fooled by the Night, a slower, atmospheric track that starts out quietly and builds a bit as it goes on, capping off a pretty remarkable album in fine fashion.
Overall, Omni is a strong, layered album, probably one of my favorites so far in 2010. However, it does betray the band’s former sound a bit, so super fans are probably a bit pissed about the change. While I do admit I like the older sound better, the progression the band has gone through did not result in a decrease in the quality of the music. Omni is still a collection of very solid indie pop with tinges of ambience and experimental sounds.
Considering this was the band’s first album with new label Dangerbird, some change should have been expected. While Minus the Bear did alter their sound a bit with Omni, they still managed to prove that they are truly one of the most creative and talented indie/pop/ambient/insert genre name here bands out there today. Pick up this record if you like anything they’ve done in the past, or just if you like good indie music.