Minus the Bear
Planet of Ice
inus the Bear’s new album, Planet of Ice, aptly enough, is a collection of skittering, frigid songs in a landscape both stark and featureless as far as the eye can see. The album begins in a wash of CD-skip keyboard swatches, then “Burying Luck” opens in mid phrase, all engines firing. Snyder rages for a brief, fluttering, exhilarating second then strives with ever diminishing distinction for fifty minutes against an inhospitable world (note the ambitious scope of the title). Presaging the rest, “Burying Luck” ends with a channel-hopping war between the inarticulate keys and the bucking guitar, bucking even as the cold sinking into its bones.
Minus The Bear’s welter of zig-zagging guitars and contrecoups rhythmic changeups is impressive both for its dexterity—you keep waiting for someone to stumble on a double dot—and for its clinical sterility. Previously, they have stenciled a certain incarnation of emo—squeezing irony out of the songs themselves and onto the teeth of their snickering titles like toothpaste tubes gone gnarly. At their best and worst, they audition for the part of Bloc Party in the emo musical, expanding on minor, diffuse melodies with a rhythmic vocabulary as gratuitously expansive as a high school essay winner.
One fights the suspicion that the blizzardly bluster serves to obscure a deficit of charisma. With the exception of an arresting, never-repeated moment in “Burying Luck” when Jake Snyder cracks his voice in ragged accusation, his vocals are frustratingly blanked and banked down, dizzied and wan. Stripping the singer of personality works if he is swathed instead in a riveting melody—cf. Fallout Boy—but Planet of Ice’s cerebrally structured songs pull in too many directions to pack a proper punch, like a bear stumbling on a frozen lake.
Planet of Ice dispenses with the yuck-yuck titles of yore for the more conventional lyrical excerpts, to little noticeable effect. There may be a last gasp of knowingness in the title to the place where Luke Skywalker uses his steed as a sleeping bag, but if so it’s far more subtle than the always-funnier-in-Spanish predecessor. What does set Planet apart, if only slightly, is a marveling lust. “White Mystery,” measures the beckoning expanse expanse of a lover’s skin, over the covers and “Waiting for a kiss / A kiss that she gets / Long and slow.” It is by far the most sensual moment on an album directed by cool abstraction, but it is still impressively cold, guided by the glacial luminescence of a latter-day Edge riff; despite the Prince-ly lyrics, Snyder wonders at his own desire rather than surrendering to it, and the music follows suit. Snyder knows what he’s doing—“Dr. L’Ling” views love with sartorial appreciation and a fear of “Becoming a casual businessman / On matters of the heart / …Or something even worse.” One shivers at the deliberation of it all.
In this frozen, friction-free landscape, velocity conquers poise in a blinding barrage that seldom lets up—they could use a bunch more ballads, and what they have is a little wan. “Ice Monster”’s surprisingly pretty introduction gives way with a clatter to a bombastic chorus that drowns out the fragile wistfulness, as though the band lost its nerve somehow. “Lotus” concludes a back half slide that leaves them sledding tunelessly into by-the-numbers riffage, a grey urban snowstorm.