Many Minus the Bear fans have an intense relationship with the band’s music. Ask a fan how many times he or she has seen the band live; the answer will probably be in the double digits. This is due to the band evolving with the times and incorporating new styles and energies into their well-defined indie-rock attitude. Most fans were disappointed for the first time with 2010’s Omni, which relied heavily on synthesizers instead of guitars. The results were a mixed bag of overly produced sunny pop-rock.
On Infinity Overhead Minus the Bear brought back producer Matt Bayles, who used to play keyboard during the band’s Highly Refined Pirates days and produced Menos El Oso and Planet Of Ice. They cut back on the synths, making guitars the most prominent instrument again. Still, this isn’t a return of the Minus the Bear of old. Infinity Overhead is in the same ballpark as Omni. The production is sparkling clean and slick, the vocals overpower everything and the band has radio-friendly written all over them. Despite this, Infinity Overhead is much better than Omni and has some real worthwhile material on it.
Guitarist Dave Knudson returns to form on this album. While he doesn’t finger tap as much as he used to, there are times where he will break into intense string picking and pulling solos. He is fantastic on “Lies and Eyes” and has an unbelievably wild solo towards the end. “Toska” is dominated by out-of-control guitars the whole time, which is an awesome display for Knudson who was out of his element with the synthesizers on Omni.
Singer Jake Snider is the weakest part of Infinity Overhead; his signature monotone vocals just don’t fit in with the band’s optimistic output. If that isn’t bad enough, his lyrics are bland and uninspired. Opening track “Steel and Blood” features the heaviest guitar the band has ever used but when Snider starts singing the song is tarnished. The song is about a car accident but Snider uses vague imagery and is convinced it should be a love song. Compare his lyrics to Thursday’s “Understanding in a Car Crash” and you’ll see how truly terrible they are. The whole album is like this; Snider seems to be on autopilot and distracted with love.
That said, Infinity Overhead succeeds in its diversity. Minus the Bear have taken out all the techniques in their toolbox and devoted individual songs to each style. “Listing” pulls back to their Acoustics EP with an intricate track all on acoustic guitar. Lead single “Diamond Lightning” is sweet and emotional but also creates a landscape of desert daydreams (and it incorporates a saxophone!). The band members use complex instrumentation and interact perfectly with each other.
The middle of the album loses quite a bit of steam with “Heaven Is a Ghost Town,” which is far too melancholy for the weakness of thematic elements. The end of the album shows the band at its best with a powerful three-punch of “Zeros,” “Lonely Gun” and “Cold Company.” “Zeros” is guitar rock at its new fine-print best and recalls old Smashing Pumpkins. “Lonely Gun” is a catchy song with some stylistic prog-rock elements. “Cold Company” is the epic song that Minus the Bear fans want; it will please all ranges of fans and leaves the album on a good note.
This new style of Minus the Bear is very radio-friendly with fun guitar songs and lyrics that are anything pop. It may not be the Minus the Bear that old fans are looking for but there is a new flair to them. The music is good and it is clear these guys are trying to widen their audience. Infinity Overhead will be hard for old fans to comprehend, while new fans will have a much easier time loving it.