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what I know about being gigantic
Minus the Bear
What I Know About Being Gigantic
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I went to the show to see Kind of Like Spitting. Ben Barnett, whether he's playing with a full band, playing solo acoustic, or simply asking me if he can move into my basement, rocks my shit in every which way, so I make every effort to go out to see him play whenever he comes to town. I had heard the name Minus the Bear, but really, the only thought I'd given the band at all was "My God, what a terrible band name!" However, they were going to play after Ben's set, and since I was there, I figured I might as well stick around and see what they were all about. To be honest, I whiled away the first couple of their songs at the bar, talking to my girlfriend and her friends. Soon enough, however, a catchy wisp of a melody drifted in from the band room, and I was moved to give up my bar-side perch in favor of a more advantageous viewing point. I walked into the band room while the band was in-between songs, and the first thing I thought was, "Hey, isn't that the guy from Sharks Keep Moving? And that drummer, he looks really familiar too. What is this -- some kind of a supergroup?" The answer: well, yeah. If you're an indie nerd who lives in Seattle, like me, this is about as super a supergroup as you could hope for.

Minus the Bear is singer/guitarist Jake Snider, who also does the singer/guitarist thing in his other band, Sharks Keep Moving; guitarist Dave Knudsen, who also blazes frets in metal-core heroes Botch; drummer Erin Tate, who mans the traps in Kill Sadie; Matt Bayles on keyboards and electronics (who, to the best of my knowledge, isn't in any other bands, but happens to be one of Seattle's best known recording engineers); and bassist Cory Murchy (who, at this point, doesn't appear to have membership in any other bands either. Give him time, though).

If you've heard any of the aforementioned bands, you know that, for the most part, they're really, really good. Sharks Keep Moving play mellow, jazzy, complex emo-pop. Botch plays frenetic, mathy, metal-tinged hardcore. Kill Sadie plays complicated, art-damaged indie punk. So, whaddya get when you put members of these excellent (if very diverse) bands in a new, different band? A really, really stinkin' good side-project that may just be better than any of the members' full-time projects. Due to Snider's presence on vocals and guitar, Minus the Bear sounds a lot more like Sharks Keep Moving than they resemble any of the other aforementioned bands -- but that's only because they sound nothing like Botch or Kill Sadie. So what do they sound like? Well, kind of like your favorite emo band that doesn't suck, mixed with The Cure, with some fun electronic undercurrents running through, minus the angst that both emo bands and the Cure tend to exude in spades. The song structures are complicated, but unfailingly melodic and catchy. The lyrical concerns seem to deal more with things like the aesthetics of pretty girls rolling cigarettes ("Her hands gorgeous, rolling a cigarette, thumbs and forefingers, rolling tobacco and the paper/she licks the paper slow twice, putting it all together") and drinking with said girls ("these girls are beautiful, and they're with us/these girls can drink well") than the typical emo fare of getting one's heart broken by the aforementioned ladies. The lyrics, delivered in Snider's pleasant croon, are plain-spoken and unpretentious.

The songs are anchored by Snider's eloquent, jazzy guitar playing, Murchy's solid basslines and Tate's nimble yet rock solid drumming. On top of this, Knudsen lays down convoluted, complex, often fingertapped guitar lines, while Bayles lays back in the background, distributing ambient keyboard wash and programmed beats over the proceedings. On some songs, the live drums cut out, and are replaced by a frantic electronica beat for a few bars -- but the live drums take over again before you know what happened.

One of the most refreshing things about Minus the Bear is the fact that the band doesn't seem to take themselves terribly seriously. Considering that they are operating within contexts that could potentially be horribly pretentious (I mean, think about it -- an emo/electronica/indie hybrid supergroup?), these guys just seem to want to get together and make cool music. The song titles themselves, which are completely ridiculous ("Hey, Wanna Throw Up? Get Me Naked!", "Lemurs, Man, Lemurs" and "Pantsuit...Uggghhh", just to name a few) seem to be poking fun at the post-rock convention of making song titles as long and convoluted as possible. Unlike many post-rock ditties with silly names, however, the songs on What I Know About Being Gigantic are real songs, with catchy-as-hell choruses, interesting, unexpected breaks and very high quality writing.

One slightly annoying thing about the album is that while there are only five songs listed on the back of the CD, there are actually seven tracks. My theory is that tracks three and four, which are both relatively brief instrumentals, are the songs that didn't warrant titles. I suppose that the only time this will really be an issue is if you're putting one of these songs on a mix tape, and you really need to know whether it's "Just Kickin' It Like a Wild Donkey" or "Potato Juice and Liquid Bread". In the end, I guess you can just pick whichever title you like best, and use that for the song you like the best. The thing is, these songs will find their way onto your mix tapes, as sure as you will not be able to get this CD out of your player. With their collective talents, Minus the Bear have created a big, happy genre-fuck that, if you're anything at all like me, will push all the right buttons to make you a very happy camper.

-- Jeremy Schneyer
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