Minus the Bear – Planet of Ice

Minus the Bear’s music has, since their promising debut, matured, laudably, I must say. As much as I enjoy a good game of Crisco Twister, I’m quite relieved to be able to guiltlessly listen to the group’s newer records without feeling as if I’m inadvertently funding the Panic! at the Disco-esque sense of humor of a group of man-children. Listening to Planet of Ice is a lot like observing a beautiful painting of a sunset. Eyes follow the subtle orange brush strokes that form the corona and dance among the crisp acrylic waves. The mind is dazzled by the beatific collage of swirling colors. One can’t help but be elated and taken away by the beauty, much less marvel at the technical expertise that went into its construction. In this respect, Minus the Bear are like Impressionist artists, the track being their canvas and echoing guitar melodies their brush and oils, and in this respect, they should be commended. A beautiful painting of a sunset is, of course, perfectly enjoyable, just like the thousands of beautiful paintings of sunsets that preceded and undoubtedly will follow it. However, therein lies the problem; when you’re painting a sunset, what else could it be than beautiful?  Planet of Ice never ascends beyond pure, dumb beauty for its own sake and, consequently, never manages to transcend the mundane. Like a painting of a sunset among innumerable paintings of sunsets, it’s a lovely, forgettable experience.

Gaze at the cover of the CD and, as the name implies, you’ll see a beautiful expanse of white ice and clouds, desolate mountaintops, and an abyssal sky, harmonizing in a beautiful landscape of blacks, whites, and blue. Sound familiar? This album cover, as any decent cover rightfully should, serves as an accurate indication of the record’s sound, a sort of subliminal mental preparation for what is in store for your ears, and what you are about to hear, ladies and gentlemen, is the sonic equivalent of a pretty mountain landscape, given it is being observed from afar. The more precarious aspects of a snowy mountain range, such as the stinging cold of ice and the rough, craggy rock surfaces, are, regrettably, not reflected in the music. It makes no reference to the creeping death that such lethal environments bequeath. What of the hapless men who freeze to death venturing into the desolate oblivion? What of the frostbite, starvation, and dismemberment upon the serrated faces of rock and ice? The point I’m trying to make is that for all of the depths that could have been plundered on this record, the Bears choose to do nothing but take their own sound for face value. What could have been dynamic, intricate, and compelling instead chose to remain throughout in ignorant bliss.

The record, throughout, makes for perfect lounge music; “easy listening,” as it were, calming, serene, even bordering on gripping at times. It’s beautiful and soothing, the epitome of relaxation tunes. However, the cascading guitar melodies and consoling vocals belie songs that are, at times, technically impressive. “Dr. L’Ling” is proof enough to justifiably claim that these guys could shred, if the situation called for it. The drumming in opener “Burying Luck” is dynamic and energetic; you could be perfectly entertained just following every cymbal crash and snare strike. Their math rock roots are apparent in songs that rarely stagnate. The bitter shame is that it’s all been done before; anybody who’s had the fortune of listening to Pele will immediately recognize one of Minus the Bear’s most profound influences. Jake Snider is not enough to dispel any cries of “copycat,” either; his submissive singing rarely stands out and instead merely gets drowned out by the instruments. Just like the pretty painting of a sunset, it’s all been done before.

Planet of Ice, in all its 48 minutes, is perfectly listenable, it’s soothing, it’s beautiful, in fact, ideal for drifting away in thought. Even “Lotus,” the obligatory 9-minute-end-of-the-record track, stays comfortably remote from boring. However, it’s never challenging or compelling; any profound thoughts you may formulate while listening to it will be yours alone, as the record offers nothing in terms of profundity. Minus the Bear succeed remarkably in what they endeavored to to: make a beautiful record. However, they failed to make a significant record, leaving Planet of Ice sounding like little more than just another pretty sunset. Here’s to hoping that, for their scheduled 2010 album, the band has found something to say in the past 3 years. Just let Snider say it louder this time.

Score: C+

by Mason “enjoys romantic sunsets and long walks on the tundra” McGough

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