OMNI very well may determine whether or not you still actively follow Minus the Bear.
It’s because this Minus the Bear isn't quite like the Minus the Bear that dazzled with prog-rock stylings on 2007's Planet of Ice. It isn’t quite like the Minus the Bear that dealt out punchy math-rock progressions and odd time signatures on 2005's Menos el Oso, and it isn’t quite like the Minus the Bear that spazzed and crooned in equal measure on 2002's Highly Refined Pirates.
No. Instead, OMNI is a melting pot of everything the band has done thus far and a foray into territory less familiar.
The Seattleites sound equally confident with the sly bridges and grandiose choruses of “Secret Country,” the electro-funk of “The Thief” and the breezy verses of “Animal Backwards.” What some may hear as a meandering, scatterbrained album is actually a finely tuned exercise in variation.
“My Time,” the album’s single, leads off with vibrant synths, mid-tempo grooves and the salacious musings of lead singer Jake Snider. Snider sounds more confident than ever at the helm of the album’s 10 tracks, as is evidenced not only in voice but the sexual exploits detailed on within. Over the staggered synths, Snider sings "you taste like sweet wine, we are magnified / The sweat rolls down your thigh, we’re making moves so blind / It's what you want, it's what you need, I'm just the same baby," and it’s borderline entrancing.
Snider’s vocals have a similar effect on the guitar-driven “Secret Country,” a five-minute, multi-part adventure complete with all the peaks and valleys that could possibly be packed into one song. Staggered, distorted riffing and a noticeable melodic undercurrent work back and forth at the outset before switching places. Snider’s slow, elongated delivery glides atop the clean, swirling progressions and the busy riffing behind it until some rousing drum fills pick the pace up in time for the triumphant chorus. Snider yells “we forget where we are” with drums crashing and riffs punctuating, and in this moment it sounds like the exact kind of song Minus the Bear are meant to write; therein lies their strength.
That same statement applies to so many of OMNI’s songs--the quintet’s chameleon-like tendencies are its biggest asset.
For as animated as Minus the Bear appeared on “Secret Country,” they are equally reserved on “Hold Me Down.” Snider’s graceful baritone keeps pace with rhythmic percussion from drummer Erin Tate, and the guitar, bass and synth that were at the forefront on other tracks are relegated to the supporting cast. It’s about tact on “Hold Me Down,” and only on the brief choruses does the volume raise above a whisper. “Into the Mirror” changes gears entirely; the electro-funk leanings give the song a pep and attitude not heard before and the sordid foray into a night of sex and drugs is tackled immediately. As Snider croons "They got a mirror full of ’caine in the bathroom, ’cause nobody here knows when to stop / For now we’re just makin’ out with the door unlocked, back in the atrium the music’s slowing down / The party’s thinning out for the late crowd, fixes her lipstick and fixes his belt / The coast is clear as he walks out" over a punchy rhythm awash with gorgeous splashes of background melody, it’s so delightfully brash.
In broaching subjects usually not plentiful on Minus the Bear records and experimenting with so many different sounds, the five-piece is bound to alienate old fans as it garners some new ones.
Such is the price to pay for progress.