4 out of 5
Produced by: Matt Bayles
Farts, fellow bros and bro-ettes: With each release I keep looking for a reason to dump Minus the Bear from my playlist, my ear-holes stuck in a perpetual love/hate war with their technically complex approach to dumb pop (my tastes are a fickle thing, lovers), and after the complete average-ness of Omni, I figured we were but one more album away from winning the battle.
But still we find ourselves engaged.
The return of Matt Bayles to the board was a good sign, but still, Infinity Overhead is a surprising (and appreciated) return to both some of the darker vibes of Planet of Ice and the type of pop-skewed hardcore layering that formed the template of their first EP and album. But this isn’t just a throwback: this is still New Bear, with more straight-forward song construction and an embrasure of electronic blips wended into their songs. What sets this apart from Omni – besides much less focus on lovey-cover crap and some attempts at legitimate lyrics – is that the combination of elements feels much more organic here. Which, as I’d noted in my Omni review, is ironic given that that album was going for a live recorded sound, but that’s just how things work sometimes; and perhaps being back in a studio with Bayles reignited a desire to take advantage of his production prowess.
Whatever the case, we can not escape some flaws: Bayles forever under-mixes certain elements of Bear, which works favorably for the guitar focused stuff – which is voluminous on this disc – but not so well on the stripped down tracks, which leaves them sounding pretty flat. Thankfully, the sequencing sandwiches the most notable examples of this – Listing; Heaven is a Ghost Town – into the album’s middle, and after the rip-roaring Toska, so the nil effect isn’t so bad. And Snider’s lyrics are still akin to high school poetry, but he’s progressed to some better metaphors and allusions this time, and is at least focused (for the most part) on thoughts and feelings beyond girls.
Countering these downsides is the overwhelming positive: the kind of explosive musicality that initially won me over as a fan (though apparently a conflicted one), now funneled through several albums of experience and thus more patient in their payoffs. Diamond Lightning makes good use of a swimmy structure to build up to Toska, and closer Cold Company is the first truly epic Minus track, correcting the letdown of Omni’s petering ender, Fooled By the Night.
So are we still at war? Well, it’s been about a decade now, and I’m getting tired of fighting. There are some moments in our history together which might make me look back and grimace, but the sum total experience has undeniably been a positive one, and with Infinity Overhead, I think I’m ready to shake hands in agreement and say I like this band. (God dammit.)