It's just two days after the release of Minus the Bear's latest album, Menos el Oso -- Spanish for Minus the Bear -- and the flame wars are in full blaze at the Seattle quintet's website. A poke around the message boards finds plenty of the usual fan fawning, but also a handful of dissenters expressing disappointment with the band's second full-length disc.
In this particular case, the thread-starter (and professed Minus the Bear fan) has dared suggest that one of the new songs, "El Torrente," is "garbage" -- and is administered a cyber-beatdown by someone named "crowd-surfin-usa": "This guy needs to be shot in the face with a woodchipper full of sloth semen."
Minus the Bear frontman Jake Snider is not the poster known as "crowd-surfin-usa," but he admits over the phone from his Seattle home that he's caught wind of the mixed reaction to the album. His response to the naysayers is only a shade more diplomatic: "Actually, a lot of the longtime fans are having some trouble with it, but they can fuck off," the singer-guitarist says drily. "Maybe they'll figure it all out eventually."
So what's behind this trouble in Bear-ville? Chalk it up to across-the-board change, in both the music and the band's general disposition. The only real constant amid the stylistic evolution is the nature of Snider's voice. It remains pretty damn close to that of Jawbox's J. Robbins in both timbre and phrasing -- a pleasing, histrionics-free tenor that's just the right combination of earnestness and resignation.
But soundwise, one needn't get very far into Oso to detect a major shift away from the frenetic, knotty post-punk of recordings past. The hotly debated "El Torrente" is the prettiest, most delicate of the album's 11 tracks. It's a melodic puff pastry of a number, with airy layers of synth squiggles, manipulated guitar tones, machine beats, and live drumming delivered in a manner resembling the supple indie-pop of the Postal Service.
Oso's next track, "Pachuca Sunrise," combines chiming prog-guitar warps and a ska-like chug, while the vocal harmony halfway through hammers home the notion that the Police could've used this song on side two of Zenyatta Mondatta.
"We're just not gonna make the same record over and over, and do the same stuff," Snider insists. "I mean, I kind of understand some people's resistance to it. It seems like people like the first record they buy from a band -- the one that they really fall in love with a band with -- and then they say that whatever comes next isn't as good. I think they're completely wrong. I love the way this one sounds."