Striving to put the “alternative” back into rock, the Seattle five-piece Minus the Bear have fostered a substantial cult with only two albums and a handful of EPs over six years.
Though they’ve attracted polite notices from the skeptical indie music press, their brand of nervous, accomplished prog rock is usually dismissed as being already over, as in critics’ comments such as “The Dismemberment Plan quit while they were ahead” and “like Death Cab for Cutie but might as well be Built to Spill.” Close listening to their new album, “Menos El Oso,” reveals they have more in common with Fugazi than any of the aforementioned groups, only without Fugazi’s punk pedigree and political purposefulness. David Knudson’s guitar work is as intricate as any jam band mensch’s, but also dizzyingly varied in its approach to mood.
MTB always create a thick atmosphere that at the same time feels lighter than air — like being trapped in a room full of helium. And with increased used of electronics, their angular songs have been smoothed and pumped. The low-riding “El Torrente” coasts on an ambient groove that skirts hip-hop. MTB may be too refined for most indie headbangers — Jake Snider’s nice-guy vocals and unassuming lyrics still seem like afterthoughts — but their reputation as a killer live act is based less on chops than on their dedication to the premise that rock is still mostly visceral. That may explain why they’ve abandoned the clever song titles (“Hey, Wanna Throw Up? Get Me Naked,” “Monkey! Knife! Fight!”). Now that they’ve got your attention, they know they have to deliver.