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By Liz Tracy
Often characterized by eclecticism, Seattle indie pop group Minus the Bear just released a refined fourth album, OMNI, that is more mature than all of its past efforts combined. Unveiled May 4, the band's first LP on Dangerbird Records features a new producer and a new attitude.
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Ahead of Minus the Bear's Tuesday concert at Fort Lauderdale's Revolution, New Times discussed OMNI with drummer Erin Tate while he watched James Bond movies at the group's current stop, the "very Columbus-y" Columbus, Ohio.
After spending eight years recording for Seattle label Suicide Squeeze, the band needed a fresh start, according to Tate. "It seemed like we could potentially grow in different areas," he says. "Dangerbird was actually one of the last labels we talked to and there was just something about it that just clicked with them."
Along with a new label, the stylistic distillation that sets OMNI apart from Minus the Bear's past work was shaped by Grammy-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli — who has recorded with Frank Zappa, Radiohead, and Elton John, among others. OMNI is stripped of the glitchier, prog-influenced vibe that defined 2007's Planet of Ice.
It is a Chiccarelli-specific technique to lay bare the talents of the musicians he produces. In this way, he has created a more raw and accessible Minus the Bear, without sacrificing the band's markedly complex instrumentation. If Planet of Ice was informed by the "Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and the crazy, wanky stuff" they'd been listening to during its recording, OMNI is more about what Tate describes as a "focus on songwriting and not overdoing stuff — the meat and potatoes of what a song is: less glitch, less length, more clean simplicity.
"Just watching [Chiccarelli], you can see that guy's brain going crazy while listening to music," Tate says. "He's a very inspirational man. He's very in tune with what he hears and very committed to getting what he wants to hear. We had never had anyone kick our asses like that before. He really made us play and really made us work at getting it right."
The ass-kicking, hard work, and desire to start anew is clear from the album's funk-inspired opener, "My Time." Something about the new presentation of Minus the Bear's capabilities has taken them to their purest roots. According to Tate, OMNI is ultimately about "good songwriting and good stuff to make you move. I feel like this record kind of has some similarities to our older stuff, just played by people who are older now."
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