Minus the Bear is in tricky territory. The Seattle quintet of ex-hardcore and math-metal allstars is building momentum with its sophomore album, Menos el Oso, but has also signaled its intent to ascend the slippery slope of "maturity." The Bear is refining its sound by dialing up the pop sheen and cutting back on the hardcore and metal-informed dynamics. Can they keep moving up without overreaching their songwriting limits and turning out the kind of vanilla pap that signaled that Piebald and the Get Up Kids had lost their way?
For Minus the Bear, it's steady sailing so far. Verses that were mired in proggy noodling on the debut, Highly Refined Pirates, have been given a more efficient disco beat on Menos el Oso. (Though hipsters call it dance-punk, we know better.) While Pirates' choruses seemed too much in love with riff-heavy breakdowns and bombastic drum work, Menos relies on increasingly adroit harmonies between Jake Snyder's earnest tenor and Dave Knudson's jangly guitar, achieving a more mellifluous, soaring effect.