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Music: Fantastic Planet

Minus The Bear gets epic and continues to tone down the humor on new album

By Alan Sculley · April 10th, 2008 · Music
  Minus The Bear
Suicide Squeeze Records

Minus The Bear

Minus The Bear drummer Erin Tate is tired of talking about the group's reputation for bringing humor to its music.

Back on the group's early albums -- the 2002 full-length Highly Refined Pirates and the EPs Bands Like It When You Yell 'Yar' at Them and They Make Beer Commercials Like This -- the subject was unavoidable. That's what happens with song titles like "Kickin' It Like a Wild Donkey" and "Hey Wanna Throw Up."

But those times had been changing almost as soon as the laughter was dying down.

"With the last record (2005's Menos El Oso) we kind of started trying to make a point to tone that stuff down a little bit, and with this record (the latest, Planet of Ice), it was time to stop it," Tate says. "There's way too much (stuff) being talked about that and we're still talking about it now. It's just something that we're all kind of sick of. We were (seen as) this kind of jokey band, and we've never really been that way."

In reality, there was reason to notice the music even on the early albums. And anyone who has heard the Seattle-based group's two most recent albums will know there's nothing overly funny about the music. But there's an awful lot that's interesting and entertaining.

In fact, Minus The Bear is making some of the most intriguing and category-defying music of any band today. Planet of Ice is the strongest effort yet by the group, which includes Tate, singer Jake Snider, guitarist David Knudson, bassist Cory Murchy and keyboardist Alex Rose.

For lack of a better word, Minus The Bear plays Pop Rock, but not in the sugar sweet vein of a Fall Out Boy, Fountains Of Wayne or Green Day. The songs certainly have hooks, but tracks such as "Knights," "Burying Luck" and "Dr. L'Ling" are angular and built around intertwining guitar and keyboard lines. The kind of guitar riffs many bands use as foundations are employed sparingly and often make only brief appearances. Though difficult to describe, Minus The Bear's songs are immediately enticing and smartly constructed.

"I just feel like every year that goes on we get more and more used to playing with each other and we got more and more used to what we want out of our music as a band, collectively," Tate says, agreeing that Ice is the band's best yet. "We just grow stronger as musicians collectively and I think the (new) record benefited a lot more than anything in our past. I feel like every record that we do gets better."

Tate says a more "epic" feel began to assert itself early in the process of creating the new album.

"After getting into the first couple of songs in the writing, that 'epic' word (began to come up)," he says. "There was a general feeling of not being afraid (of) making things a little more crazy and not fall short so much. When we went into the studio, we went in with 14 tracks and 10 made the record for a reason. We wanted it to be a piece of work as opposed to just throwing a bunch of songs on a record. (That) was being thought about during the songwriting process."

On previous albums, Tate and Knudson had been the primary songwriters. For Planet of Ice, though, songwriting turned into a true team effort.

"This record was a lot more of a collaborative thing between the five of us, where everyone was around and everyone contributed way more ideas and was there from the start of the song until the end of the song," Tate says. "This record was way more (collaborative), and I personally feel the record is 100 times better for that reason, that everyone was there from start to finish and able to really get into it and spend time doing it all together as a band. I feel like the record is way more cohesive and way more put together because of that."

Another contrast between Planet of Ice and Menos El Oso is that Minus The Bear didn't use as much sampling, looping and overdubbing on the newer record. As a result, Tate says the new songs have been a bit easier to translate to a live setting than those from Menos El Oso.

"We pretty much have been able to do it roughly like the record," Tate says. "There's some tripling and quadrupling of vocal stuff that's impossible to pull off, but for the most part musically we've been able translate it and pull it off."

MINUS THE BEAR performs Saturday at Bogart's. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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