From the crystal strains of “Pachuca Sunrise” to the digital stutter of “Knights,” Seattle rocksters Minus the Bear’s music has always been about matching polished pop appeal with smart mechanics and a (mostly) refreshingly straightforward indie-rock angle—the ingredients for mainstream success in most cases, but frustratingly not so for this quintet, who have skidded beneath the music-consuming public’s consciousness and have yet to surface to any chart-topping daylight.
Perhaps in response to their surprising lack of recognition, Minus the Bear has turned decidedly more white bread for their fourth album, Omni, with, of all things, the catchy, sonic cheesiness of ‘80s Top 40 starting to emerge from their complex, staccatoed melodies. It is, perhaps, a natural progression, considering the smooth allure of leadman Jake Snider’s voice, the readymade hooks in the band’s music, and the indie genre’s already-ingrained predisposition toward everything ‘80s. Yet despite its overt feints toward the mainstream, the mellow, white-boy pop funkiness works well for Minus the Bear. As unsurprising, unchallenging, and fangless as Omni sometimes is, it presents a band that has found a confident and comfortable groove.
The album retains an odd, dated quality that suggests Minus the Bear is mimicking the icons of their youth rather than following their peers’ inclinations. Snider admirably channels the husky cool of “Sledgehammer”-era Peter Gabriel on “Fooled by the Night,” chanting the lyrical mouthful of “freeze-frame vision” over and
over to the droplets of a synth harp and sweeping, octave-bending pedals. “Hold Me Down” is a bastardized, distortion-dressed successor to Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like the Wind,” with the same rolling percussion line, airy riffs, and the keynote tagline “I’m in the wind.” (All that’s missing is Michael McDonald on backing vox.) Likewise, “My Time” and “Into the Mirror” could have been ripped straight from Hall & Oates’s H2O, with the latter track especially reminiscent of the duo’s thematic, heavy-handed cover of Mike Oldfield’s “Family Man.”
It’s syrupy, heart-on-the-sleeve stuff, so slickly produced and acutely cornball that it has no logical place on the record of any semi-obscure, self-respecting indie rock band. And yet Omni remains intriguingly smooth and flip: Cool by way of its out-of-touch bravado, and, in too-brief moments, graced by a tongue-in-cheek bittersweetness.