Album Review: Minus the Bear, "Omni"

Minus the Bear make me think of college.  This is odd in that they were not around when I was in college.  But their music makes me think of a band I would have obsessed over when I was in school (being older and more mature now, I only slightly obsess over them).  Then there's Jake Snider's lyrics, which more often than not have to do with hanging out with your friends, drinking, and overly dramatized sex.  If that's not college, I don't know what is.

I wasn't thrilled with Minus the Bear's last album, "Planet of Ice."  There seemed to be something missing on that album, or rather there was something there that I'd heard before.  I love this band, but at a certain point it's time to move forward, to expand beyond what you're used to doing.  The saving grace of that record, for me, was "Lotus," a nearly nine minute epic that saw the band begin to drift into acid rock/classic rock areas for the first time.

I was more impressed with the releases Minus the Bear put out between "Planet of Ice" and "Omni."  The first was "Acoustics," which, as you might expect, was a collection of songs done in the "Unplugged" vein.  This showed me that while I might not have liked "Planet of Ice," the songwriting was still there -- the production just needed to change, to evolve.

And evolve it did, with the next release, the single for "Omni," "Into the Mirror," with the b-side "Broken China."  If "Acoustics" had begun to get me excited for the new album, the "Into the Mirror" single finished the job.  No other band could make such an off putting keyboard part not only work, but work well.  I honestly didn't see their future moving in the keyboard heavy direction, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense, since it fit with the hints of acid rock heard on "Planet of Ice."

It's clear from the first track on "Omni," "My Time," that Minus the Bear aren't afraid to give this whole keyboard thing a shot.  While the jerky rhythms and finger tapping of Snider and Dave Knudson's duel guitar attack are still there, they're now swirling around Alex Rose's more prominent keyboard parts.  It's a fine balance, and thankfully one Minus the Bear knows how to maintain.  Rose never forces his parts where they don't belong, and often chooses to simply provide texture in the background, like on stand outs "Hold Me Down" and "The Thief."

If Minus the Bear does make the mistake of overdoing experimentation, it comes not with keyboard parts, but with guitar effects.  "Summer Angel" is a wonderful song, but the warbly flange effect on the lead guitar line is distracting.  Minus the Bear's dueling guitars don't need effects because they are just that good; leave the manufactured sounds to the keyboards.

"Omni" does lose steam towards the end.  "Animal Backwards" is filler and "Fooled By The Night" doesn't have enough hooks to warrant being a seven minute song.  But the finish doesn't detract for the overall quality of this album, particularly in comparison to Minus the Bear's last effort.  If "My Time," "The Thief," and "Into the Mirror" are an indication of things to come, I can't wait for the follow-up.