Sound — 7
Though Minus The Bear hail from Seattle, the capital of grunge music, their style as a band would be something much different than the distortion and angst-laden bands that came before them. Making a sound for themselves by intricately weaving numerous guitar tapping melodies and blending odd time measurements to earn them a spot in the esoteric math rock category, Minus The Bear would become a cardinal band for an indiehead's music library. Though by the time Minus The Bear signed to the more substantial Dangerbird Records and began to garner more popularity, they would go through a bit of a style crisis. As Minus The Bear's fourth album, "Omni," attempted to be an indie-dance-rock soundtrack for the hipster speakeasies in Brooklyn and Portland, it ultimately fizzled due to it stepping away from the smart math rock-influenced compositions that made Minus The Bear captivating in their earlier days (not to mention that the hipsters were "over" Minus The Bear at this point). The following album, "Infinity Overhead," would try threading the needle between their old and new style to mixed avail, still not quite getting everyone that love "Menos El Oso" and "Planet of Ice" on board with the change in style. While Minus The Bear have yet to announce a sixth studio album, the newest release of theirs, "Lost Loves," is a compilation of B-sides, rarities, and tracks that didn't make the cut for Minus The Bear's previous albums.
"Lost Loves" can be easily divided into two parts: Minus The Bear's pre-"Omni" style, and their post-"Omni" style. Of course, the latter-styled tracks bear the emphasis on dancey tempos and synths, and the instruments are left considerably marginalized - such as the basic riffage and measurement changeups in "Walk on Air" and the incessant strumming of "Surf-N-Turf." While these tracks come off as filler and fodder for the argument of why B-sides should stay as B-sides, the showcase of Minus The Bear's pre-"Omni" style is more prominent in "Lost Loves," and is essentially what saves things. The jazzy downtempo cut "Patiently Waiting" showcases Minus The Bear's low-gear side without any confusing attempts to make an indietronica blend with it, and "Electric Rainbow" and "Cat Calls & Ill Means" bring back Minus The Bear's uptempo indie rock gear and puts the spotlight back on the dual guitar tapping melodies.
This pre-"Omni" ethos is further shown even in post-"Omni" era songs: "Broken China" strongly evokes Minus The Bear's prog-rock side, and the lower-geared "South Side Life" is a mellow, melody-rich indie slow jam. Even "Invented Memory" and "Your Private Sky," which wield the lower tempo and synth presence that signifies its belonging to the "Omni" days, shine enough light on the band's instruments to balance the scales between organic and synthetic. And the ending "The Lucky Ones" epitomizes the strong instrumental skill and intelligent melody intertwining that put Minus The Bear on the map in the first place, properly closing the album on a good note.
Lyrics — 7
With blunt and clunky narratives of sexuality and post-modernity being one of the vices that plagued "Omni," a sizeable amount of the lyrical content in "Lost Loves" provides a puzzle piece that was missing from "Omni": substance (though one can infer that this is because dance-oriented music is never concerned with meaningful lyrics). Metaphors, emotions and imagery are stronger in the pining "Broken China," "Walk on Air" and "Your Private Sky," as well as the more positive, "all we need is each other" songs "Invented Memory" and "The Lucky Ones," which come off way more articulate and interesting than the ham-handed "I know you want me" message of "Omni." "Lost Loves" shows further banking on the strong storytelling, with the touch-and-go connections of love in "Patiently Waiting" and "Cat Calls & Ill Means," and the outlaw narrative of "Electric Rainbow," though this is likely due to these lyrics being penned back in the "Planet of Ice" days.
Overall Impression — 8
The balancing of the older and newer styles in "Lost Loves" ends up making a compilation album that's better-rounded than the band's last couple of albums, already making it a worthy listen despite the song content not being brand new, but there's also a bigger picture to this. As other reputable B-side compilations, like Nirvana's "Incesticide" and Smashing Pumpkins' "Pisces Iscariot," were meant to be a "one last hurrah" for the bands' older sound before making albums that would bring forth a substantial change, "Lost Loves" feels like it's trying to do the opposite. Whereas "Infinity Overhead" was busy trying to readjust the pH levels of Minus The Bear's dance-rock elements and indie-rock elements, the rehashing of Minus The Bear's older sound in "Lost Loves" may very well be a foreshadowing to what Minus The Bear strive to return to with their sixth album - that is, if and when they start working on a sixth album. It's this purpose that "Lost Loves" serves (whether intentionally or not) that makes it more than just niche and superfluous like the typical "B-sides and rarities" albums.