When mentioning the term “prog rock,” one immediately conjures up images of classical music melded with rock, lengthy solos, ambitious concept albums, and elaborate stage shows. Neo-prog rock artists such as Marillion have scaled down the more pretentious aspects of the form, incorporating other genres and singing more personal lyrics. Thus when I first heard of the neo-prog rock group Minus the Bear, I admittedly resorted to my preconceived ideas of the music, particularly art rock groups like Yes or Supertramp. Instead, Minus the Bear’s latest album, Omni, pleasantly surprised me with its pop sensibility and thoroughly modern elements.
The very first track, “My Time,” immediately grabs attention with its synthesizer-driven hook. Make no mistake, however–instead of sounding too steeped in 1980s keyboards, the bass-driven beat and the relentlessly catchy chorus (“I’ve got your nights/I’ve got your days”) keep the song grounded in the present day. ”Excuses,” a mid-tempo cut, continues the art of the “hook,” propelled by Alex’s Rose’s swirling keyboards and guitarist/lead singer Jake Snider’s gliding vocals. Bassist Cory Murchy also shines, with the rapid bass lines adding some soul to the proceedings. Drummer Erin Tate and guitarist Dave Knudson work closely on “Secret Country,” the hardest-rocking song on the album. The guitar and bass provide a darker sonic wave, which effectively features Snider’s straightforward yet powerful voice.
Cuts such as “Animal Backwards” utilize elements of dance music and even Kraftwerk to form their unique brand of rock. “Dayglow Vista Rd.” may more closely resemble progressive rock a la 1970s-era Genesis, but the chorus’s throbbing guitars still makes the track pleasing to the ear. While steeped in rock, “The Thief” contains a hint of funk and even some 1980s-era electronic drums during a break. Minus the Bear clearly enjoys inserting sounds from various eras into their music, particularly when the listener least expects it. Interesting instruments also abound, such as the vintage Omnichord synthesizer used on tracks such as “Into the Mirror” and the aforementioned “My Time.”
Formed in Seattle in 2001, Minus the Bear has gained a following through their energetic live shows and neo-prog rock sound. Omni is their fourth full-length album release and their first for the Dangerbird Records label, and judging from its polished music, the CD represents the band’s attempt to broaden their audience appeal. Further evidence of this: Omni’s producer is Joe Chiccarelli, who has worked with successful alternative acts such as My Morning Jacket, The White Stripes, The Shins, and The Raconteurs. Chiccarelli’s influence pervades the album, as the vast majority of the songs are tight, well-constructed tunes aimed at gaining more airplay.
Listeners like me who have previously shied away from prog-rock acts should try Minus the Bear’s Omni. Its blend of rock and pop, as well as its deft avoidance of prog rock clichés, make the album a fascinating listen. These well-crafted songs should attract a wider audience, and will be crucial in building upon their fan base.
Currently on tour, Minus the Bear will play Milwaukee’s The Rave on December 17 and First Avenue in Minneapolis on December 18. To purchase tickets and learn more about the band, visit their official site and MySpace Music page.