One thing I have always loved about Minus the Bear is that the band never keeps their sound stagnant from album to album, yet they always maintain or improve the elements of their sound that I find most appealing.
Planet of Ice, the bandís third full-length, is by far their best album to date. The Seattle-based quintet may not be as fun as they used to be, but we saw that coming with 2005ís Menos el Oso when they stopped using hilarious track names and took a darker lyrical and instrumental approach. Where Planet of Ice exceeds is in how it improves on the strides the band took to make Menos el Oso such a great album. Their arrangements continue to be spacious, ambient and moody, but this time around seem to carry themselves with a little more direction. Jake Sniderís vocals play along with the instrumentation better than they ever have in the past without resorting to overproduction to do so. With so much going on in the bandís sound, thatís quite an accomplishment.
One of the greatest aspects of Minus the Bear is that theyíre amazingly easy to listen to. All their work has been perfect summertime music, great to play on the dock at the cottage. However, the band has always allowed the listener to challenge themselves, and they do this even more with Planet of Ice. The synth and guitar elements of the songs take off in a number of directions with various degrees of complexity and Sniderís lyrics, while on the surface seem clear enough, are still pretty vague.
My only criticism of the album would be that itís weighted in such a manner as to leave the first half stronger than the second. "Burying Luck" opens up in classic Minus the Bear fashion and continues through to "Ice Monster" with Snider tugging his vocals along with newcomer Alex Roseís keyboards. These familiar comforts continue through until "Part 2" when the band takes the show in a slightly different direction, although not one that is necessarily unwelcome. With quicker guitar arrangements and the band trying more new things, the second half of the album isnít as instantly appealing as the first, but after some time that changes.
However, giving people the opportunity to delve deeper into the record without forcing it upon them is a wonderful thing. Planet of Ice allows you to listen to it as you please, be that falling into the background or intently with $300 headphones on, and either way itís a brilliant listen.