BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Seattle-based quintet Minus the Bear’s powerful new “Lost Loves” collects songs left off previous albums. It’s an apparent testament to strenuous quality control, because none of these slate-cleaning selections are second rate.
“When we’re in the studio, we treat every song like it’s going to make the cut,” says keyboardist Alex Rose. “We might drop something from an album because we’re trying to move in a certain overall direction.”
“Sometimes we regret those decisions later,” he says, laughing.
On songs like “Invented Memory,” singer Jake Snider’s mellow baritone and Rose’s supple synthesizers play tug-of-war with an unusually versatile rhythm section. Drummer Erin Tate and bassist Cory Murchy possess the knack to instantly shift from controlled chaos into impeccable precision and hip-shaking grooves.
Amid the band’s rare combination of talent, guitarist “Dave Knudsen” might be most easily noticed. His unerring sense of pop structure is unhinged by an unconventional playing style that parallels progressive giants including King Crimson’s “Robert Fripp” and Wilco’s Nels Cline.
On “Broken China,” Knudsen’s guitar sounds like it’s in imminent danger of meltdown before sliding into an economical call-and-response that would have equally suited Rage Against the Machine or the Police. “Sometimes, our individual parts don’t make sense,” says Rose. “When you hear them all together, it’s surprising how they mesh.”
Snider’s lyrics feature off-kilter but probing examinations of the heart. “Steel and Blood” from 2010’s “Infinity Overhead” used the immediate, shocking silence of a car crash metaphorically. He pursues an elusive goal during ‘Surf and Turf.’” “Jake described it as a dreamscape,” says Rose. “Cliffs kept appearing that prevented him from reaching his destination.”
In addition to “Lost Loves” material, the band’s tour will celebrate the tenth anniversary of fan-favorite “They Make Beer Commercials Like This” by performing the full EP. The 2004 release predates Rose’s entrance as a band member. “I was a heavy listener before I got tangled up in this whole thing,” says Rose. “I love all of those songs. ‘Fine Plus Two Points’ gets the party started.”
“Walk on Air” fuses the guitar-and-synth combination of ‘80s alternative acts like Duran Duran with Hum-styled math-rock and a disco beat from Jamiroquai. It may sound like a messy dish, but the band’s strength is creating gourmet fare from unlikely ingredients. If Heaven is a ghost town as Snider has sung, it may be because the angels are lined up to see Minus the Bear at Bottom Lounge.
Minus the Bear, with Young Widows, 8 p.m. Oct 23, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W Lake, Tickets $25 (ages 17+over), (312) 666-6775; bottomlounge.com.