Review from www.pitchfork.com .
I throw a sidelong glance at my brother’s “record collection” and take note of the names: Moby, Foo Fighters, Eminem. The best and brightest from the radio dial. He wouldn’t know indie if it came to his party and spent the whole night pining for some girl, but he’s clearly an expert on “Eh”; after a lifetime spent cultivating an appreciation for marginal-to-mediocre mainstream runoff, my brother has finally applied what he learned. In one sentence, he trumped everything I could write about this record. How can an album as tight, consistent, and energetic as Highly Refined Pirates be at once so thoroughly unimpressive? Minus the Bear is a talented bunch with a somewhat eclectic pedigree (Botch, Sharks Keep Moving, Kill Sadie), but the brainy arithmetic of its hooks, and the growly, sensitive-but-angry vocals are every inch the bastard sons of the middling indie norm.
Through changing time signatures, dynamic, bouncing rhythms, and thirty-one flavors of guitar noises, Minus the Bear make a Herculean effort to maintain their audience’s attention. They even slip in beat-driven electronics from time to time, digital ear candy to distract from the core blahness of their particular spin on well-spun clichés, but it’s never more than a flourish. When the dizziness subsides, J. Robbins asks, “Eric, why not listen to For Your Own Special Sweetheart instead? Doesn’t this just make you long for Emergency & I?”
And I want to say to him, “You know, Mr. Robbins, you’re right. Why eat hamburger when you can have steak?” Rock’s a finite genre, after all– not everyone can innovate. Imitation’s a fact of life, but the cardinal rule is to refine what’s been done before, and while Minus the Bear expertly execute existing formulas, they never once look beyond the tablature. This only serves to underscore the greatness of their inspirations (Dismemberment Plan, Jawbox, Built to Spill), and by track three on Pirates, I can’t shake the thought that everyone who’s listened to any independent music in the last ten years has heard this record before. Maybe it’s just that the Bear choose to emulate a sound that’s too fresh to be paraded under the banner of purism or revival; maybe it’s less inspired derivation. That’s a subtle distinction in any case: The bottom line is their roots are showing badly. Am I jaded? Maybe a little.
On some level, music is a visceral pleasure, and though it veers towards bemusement, Minus the Bear’s second full-length release manages to entertain. In particular, “Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo” and the opener, “Thanks For the Killer Game of Crisco Twister” come close to mustering some of the grandeur and transcendent glory of the more powerful acts that obviously inspire them. Despite the emotion in Jake Snider’s voice, and a few soaring melodies, they never quite find their way out from the shadows of the past. If only the songs lived up to the promise of their titles: An album even half as fun as a rousing game of Crisco Twister might have justified repeated spins.