To this day Planet of Ice is one of my very favorite albums, with every song invoking vivid imagery of Salt Lake City in the winter and southern Idaho in the spring. I discovered Minus the Bear a little out of order back then, and Planet of Ice led me to Minus the Bear’s previous album, the nearly-as-great Menos del Oso. For a couple of years leading up to 2010, Minus the Bear was firmly entrenched as one of my favorite bands. Then came “OMNI”, an okay but overly disappointing foray into attempted popularity, and containing a distinct shortage of memorable songs other than “My Time”. I saw them live for the first time a few weeks later, sitting through a curiously uninspired festival performance that made me second guess leaving Mumford & Sons playing at the other stage. All this left me a little torn, and I had to wait until recently for 2012’s Infinity Overhead for something new. In the meantime, Planet of Ice and Menos del Oso received continued plays, and OMNI descended further into obscurity.
Infinity Overhead presents itself an interesting follow-up to OMNI. The obvious attempts to crossover that plagued OMNI are missing, but the return to their previous songwriting is only half-hearted. And sadly, half-hearted is a good description for the album as a whole. Fortunately, half-hearted Minus the Bear still warrants some attention, and there’s certainly much to like here. Primarily there’s “Diamond Lightning”, important because despite my uninspiring buildup in the first two paragraphs, it’s truly one of the greatest songs they’ve ever written. Brimming with heart and dripping with trademark Minus the Bear guitar work, “Diamond Lightning” soars, combining all the best elements of their greatest work (“Throwin’ Shapes”, “Pachuca Sunrise”, etc.) into a masterpiece. It’s a tragedy the momentum doesn’t continue.
Don’t get me wrong. The peril of discussing mediocrity by a great band is the potential for making it sound like it’s bad. But mediocre Minus the Bear can still be very good. The more upbeat “Toska” is outstanding, “Lies and Eyes” is solid, and the softer “Heaven is a Ghost Town” pushes Jake Snider’s vocal register. “Empty Party Rooms”, “Zeros”, and “Cold Company”? All good. So while it probably doesn’t sound like a good thing calling an album the third best of the last four, understand the context: Planet of Ice and Menos del Oso are alternative rock masterpieces. That’s not hyperbole…I believe that through and through. Infinity Overhead is not earth-shattering nor is it a masterpiece, but there’s still plenty to like here, and listening to “Diamond Lightning” is a must.