Minus The Bear – Omni album review

Minus The Bear:  Omni

album review by Garin Fahlman 
The word “Omni” means “all or everything” in Latin, and so it is aptly applied as the title of Minus The Bear’s latest album Omni.  From a band who has always acted as a bridge between mainstream hooks and technical chops, Minus the Bear delivers a much more refined marriage of sounds on Omni, which from track one lays down its MO.  This is an album that would like to dance with you.  Or go on a road trip with you.  Or even just hang out with you and eat some chips.  Omni is like a new friend who knows about a bunch of stuff you don’t but is really cool about it.  He won‘t rub it in.  He’ll share.  And then he‘ll whip up some nachos.

That’s what this album does.  It takes you on an enjoyably accessible musical trip down familiar indie-pop lane, but stops to show you a bunch of secret nooks you didn’t even know existed.  And when you see them you’ll feel like you’ve been let into a little club of people who know all about this nook.  You’ll feel like if you were to go there and see someone else, you two would just connect without saying anything. 

Omni is a collection of songs that expertly combine sounds that have always been interested in each other but have always been too nervous to explore their feelings.  The tracks on the album are laden with synth leads that pound (tenderly) around warm guitar that carries you over winding instrumental breaths that are quickly picked up by confident voices that know exactly where they are going.  Indeed, the vocals on the album are commanding in the most ensemble way.  They are the driver, while the sounds that play around them make up the road.  And this sense of collective direction is really the most important sound on the album.  There isn’t anything that sounds out of place; although one could say that a lack of oddity is a detriment, when you’ve made the perfect blend, you don’t want to immediately change the recipe.  But I think that staying on track is more the theme of Omni.  It may not go down every side road, but it does take you to them, and let you decide for yourself if you’d like to explore. 

The album has a distinct groove, and Omni sounds best when you’ve fallen into it.  There are textures that act as camera filters – you don’t quite know what part of the music is causing it, but there are clear cut moods to each“scene”.  Eventually the album reaches a point where you stop caring about how the band is doing, or how the lyrics holds up, because each song becomes a completely realized scene. 

There are moments on Omni that particularly stand out as welcome deviations.  One of the most notable motifs on the album is the numerous solos.  Solos, which have long gradually been phased out of pop music save for the jam bands, are quite present here in an environment traditionally hostile towards them.  But the solos on Omni are not face-melters.  No, they are a different animal altogether, a solo that plays a more ensemble role.  It is simply used to carry melodies when the vocals drop out, however they feel and sound like great performance vistas, maybe because despite their “old-world” abundance, they have been placed with the care that each song is constructed with. 

Another stylistic theme that occurs frequently but is (frustratingly) rarely noticeable, is the admittedly complex structure of some songs.  Frequent shifts from a standard 4/4 feel can pop in and out but are hardly as jarring as Minus the Bear’s many contemporaries who experiment with the same fluctuation.  Omni eschews most massive change to time signature in favour of subtler beat shifts and rhythm changes – but it all stays danceable by even the most beat-impaired individuals.  Musicians will appreciate the moments where these explorations are apparent, but for the most part they are only present where they are wholly welcomed. 
Omni has crossed the difficult boundary of being musically engaging while being consistently easy to enjoy to almost any listener.  One of the only things I can say against the album is that it feels more like a sample dish – some more elaboration on sounds touched upon would have resulted in a more dynamic album.  It is certainly well-grounded and has a much more accessible reach than previous albums, and that is most likely the purpose here.  It is a great ride, and to any indie-phile: it belongs on your shelf.  And to anyone else who likes new and interesting sound combos: you will definitely learn a little about your own tastes by taking a ride with Omni.

Omni will be out on May 4, 2010 from Dangerbird Records on iTunes and a record store near you.

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