The brilliant thing about Minus the Bear is that each of the Seattle band's five albums is distinct, yet uniquely Minus the Bear. So whether the effect is clamorous or cold, driven by guitar or keyboard, it expresses the same deceptively catchy art-rock dynamic.
There was, for example, 2010's Omni, an R&B-infused disco-prog album helmed by Grammy-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli (whose clients have included the Strokes, Shins, Zappa and Bon Jovi). Their most poppy, synth-heavy and rhythmic album to date, it divides fans and band members alike. While singer/guitarist Jake Snider and bassist Cory Murchy have lauded the album, principal songwriters Dave Knudson and Erin Tate have expressed reservations, particularly about some of the glossier post-production choices.
"It was a great learning experience to work with someone outside, who had different ideas, and to kind of collaborate," says Murchy. "Some people loved it, some people hated it, but I think that's the case with any of our records, so that kind of goes with the territory."
Minus the Bear brought back the guitars for last year's Infinity Overhead, while retaining some of Omni's hooky energy. The arrangements generally aren't as proggy and byzantine, with more than half the songs coming in under the four-minute mark.
Even the longer songs, such as the haunting, textured "Heaven Is a Ghost Town," wraps up in under five. Meanwhile, the jarring post-punk angularity that struck so sharply on 2005's Menos El Oso has given way to a smoother, subtler attack. Behind the boards this time is former bandmate and usual producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Polar Bear Club).
"We veered away from the more heavy-handed electronic, keyboard-y stuff," says Murchy. "Back to the roots, if you will."
Bayles is also onboard for the next release, an acoustic album the band is just now putting the finishing touches on. It will feature nine old tunes and a couple of brand new ones, much like Minus the Bear's 2008 Acoustics EP.
"There are so many pedals and such an electronic facet to our band that it's really nice to just strip all of that away and just get down to the core," says Murchy. "Strip it all away and you really get to the meat of the song. So it's awesome to revisit some of that stuff and come at it from a different angle. I think it's healthy."
Murchy also mentions the possibility of releasing a B-sides album somewhere in the future. "There are a lot of songs we didn't know what to do with, and a lot of songs we really love just ended up on B-side island."
Minus the Bear's current tour is divided between headlining dates like Colorado Springs, and co-headlining dates with cult emo favorites Circa Survive, something they've done before while touring with indie-rock chums Cursive.
"Being exposed to their fans," says Murchy, "that's what you want, to get in front of some people that may have heard the name but never have actually seen you. It's a good opportunity."
Still, Minus the Bear remains grateful for the loyal fan base that's helped them stay at it for a dozen years now.
"We've been extremely fortunate to have so much support and love for us," reflects Murchy. "Not to be cheesy, but it's true. We wouldn't be able to do it without them."