It must be tough being from Seattle and being in a band. I mean, everything that has happened in the last 30 years was born on the muddy banks of the Wishkah. But all revolutions are reactionary and if grunge killed heavy metal, Minus The Bear were probably thinking their half-baked New Wave pop would revolutionise the Western Seaboard and beyond once again. However, on this sixth long player (six!) they never really get out of second gear. Previous releases saw some relative success within the American indie underground but their dogged determination to remain fiercely independent also sometimes feels like a vague resignation.
But I digress. From the polished opening minor chord progression of Last Kiss, with too much emphasis on the emotive vocals, VOIDS tries a little too hard to be edgy yet serious and ends up falling right in the middle of the road. ‘What About The Boat‘ doesn’t stand up to straight comparison with, say, anything from the new Elbow album and even the wrestled guitar solo on ‘Silver‘ is indie by numbers. Now, I’m no producer but one of those faders on the mixing desk must be marked ‘White Lies’ and on VOIDS, Minus The Bear are all over it.
And there lies the problem. There is nothing wrong with this album technically, all its verses and choruses are in the right places and it feels like a cohesive collection just a bit like being immaculately dressed in Top Man gear. Stylish but lacking the extra attention to detail afforded by the top designers, wool-mix where it could be Kashmir, button down collars in a world without and those little ankle socklettes when really no socks (or, indeed, socks) would be preferable.
Of course, with a back story involving such luminaries as Botch, Kill Sadie and Dangerbird Records, and a production pedigree amongst the band’s previous and current members you would expect there to be highlights and when they go in a heavier direction such as on ‘Robotic Heart‘ and the looping riffs of ‘Tame Beasts‘ they begin to forge a more intricate and original sound. Moments of clarity on ‘Give & Take‘ and ‘Call The Cops’ change of meter and anthemic chorus also hit the mark. But for every meticulously picked guitar solo and professionally timed twiddling of knobs there is a drab insistence on sticking to a formulaic structure as if, after all this time, the big breakthrough is still just around the corner. If this corner is anywhere on VOIDS then it may be on the epic, progressive pop of closer ‘Lighthouse‘. Where VOIDS generally fails to deliver, ‘Lighthouse‘ offers enough of an encouraging light at the end of an otherwise lacklustre tunnel that might make album seven at least worth a listen.
VOIDS is released on 3rd March through Suicide Squeeze Records.