Minus the Bear’s debut album Highly Refined Pirates is the most fun you’ll have with songs named after Starship Troopers quotes. “Damn Bugs Wacked Him, Johnny” and “You Kill Bugs Good, Man” aren’t even the silliest song names on the album; other topics include throwing up, monkey fights and playing Crisco twister. Following a pair of EPs called This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic and Bands Like It When You Yell “YAR!” At Them, it is clear the boys were having fun and had a tendency for absurd names for songs and albums.
When Minus the Bear came up from Seattle in the early 2000s they were the quintessential indie-rock band. They may not be the most original band on the planet but they succeed on all attempted fronts. Clear songs, friendly demeanor, and complicated yet catchy hooks are all descriptions of this band. Their style is often confused with math-rock due to their maneuvering time signatures and notable finger-picking. Guitarist Dave Knudson quickly flicks, picks and plucks strings, giving the songs a jamboree of energy. The string tapping was semi-unusual in the early 2000s and it gave Minus the Bear an offbeat quality. “Spritz!!! Spritz!!!” is the best example of said plucking as the song rattles and twines with every flick but on the chorus it erupts into a distorted rage.
Minus the Bear is often slammed for singer Jake Snider’s monotone vocal cues and lyrical choices. In high school a kid said to me, “Wanna throw up? Listen to Minus the Bear lyrics,” a play on one of their song titles. Yes, their lyrics are not cutting edge and, especially on Highly Refined Pirates, revolve around drinking, partying and general kicking back. While these topics resemble what you might hear on country radio, Snider delivers his lines as a relatable authority on the subject, i.e. you’ll appreciate his lyrics if you’re involved with what he’s singing about. I remember advising that same kid in high school to listen to “Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo,” on which Snider delivers one of the funniest yet understandable statements in history: “You said, my life’s like a bad movie/I said, it’s true for all of us/You said, I have to wake up so fucking early/I said, maybe the directors turned on us.” Another fan favorite “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” acutely depicts the tune of traveling abroad by singing, “sitting on a park bench that’s older than my county.” There are definitely some insights to relate to through his words.
Highly Refined Pirates loses some steam as it progresses. When comparing the first couple songs “Thanks For the Killer Game of Crisco Twister” and “Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!” and the last few songs “I Lost All My Money at the Cock Fights” and “Andy Wolff,” the first few songs are much higher in energy and have a willingness to rock. The album is layered like the timing of a party. It starts with high energy, peaks in the middle and gradually slows down until bedtime. The last official song is “Let’s Play Guitar in a Five Guitar Band” which rocks out like a memory of the night before.
The album ends with a closing outro-like track “Booyah Achieved” and after delivering an all-around solid extension into indie-rock, I would agree that Booyah was achieved with Highly Refined Pirates.