[Photo: Shervin Lainez]

There are very few bands able to blend traditional instruments with electronics as successfully as Minus The Bear, especially in the world of independent rock.

Of course, plenty of bands incorporate keyboards into their sound, and programming, and drum machines—but these synthetic elements too often stand apart from the other instruments; ultimately, their seams show. Somehow, Minus The Bear’s songs always feel so seamless—squawking leads that could be guitars or synths, wavering chords that weave between what’s strummed, drums too precise and complex not to be programmed (but never are). The effect has always been full and fascinating and weird, but memorable. On VOIDS, which marks Minus The Bear’s return to Suicide Squeeze Records, the band displays this seamless blend.

“Give & Take,” for example, opens with noisy chords, dropping on each downbeat with the force of a palm on a piano. Instead of separate instruments—a buzzing bass, a wincing synth, sooty guitars that still glint in the light—they coalesce into a single sound, stay together even as a stuttering drumbeat enters, as a quiet arpeggio cascades behind the song, as singer and guitarist Jake Snider shuffles into the spotlight. These instruments smear together during the song’s chorus, becoming a roar that seems to radiate. It happens again on “Robotic Heart,” where the instruments buck and rear like biting animals, and on softer songs like “Call The Cops,” where, during the chorus, the guitars and piano and synth (and even Snider’s airy howl) tangle into a blooming bouquet.

These songs never seem convoluted, or even complicated. Somehow, a song like “Invisible”—with its layers of chords, its flickering guitars, its polyrhythmic tendencies—feels sparse, as simple and catchy as any top ten single. During its chorus, the guitars fall on the offbeats around Snider’s nimble melody only to be drop kicked back in the air by the drumbeat. The same goes with “Silver,” despite its sticky guitar licks. Minus The Bear has been called a “mathy” band a million times, and these songs display those characteristics, but they never become too angular or inaccessible; they never lose their 4/4 feel even when they hop time signatures.

Still, there are some moments where VOIDS has no punch: on “What About The Boat?” with its chiptune aura, or on cavernous closer “Lighthouse.” These songs are rich and beautiful, sure, but less immediate, and least like the Minus The Bear of a decade ago. The best songs on VOIDS—like the best songs on Menos el Oso or Planet Of Ice—are all momentum. Take “Tame Beasts,” with its braying guitars and kicky beat; the song scoots through its verses, then tumbles into a chorus that’s all overdrive and vibration. Here, the band becomes a melodic singularity, a cohesive and harmonic din, but only for a moment.

Perhaps this is why Minus The Bear are the masters of this blended sound: The band knows when to twist together, when to splay apart, and when to explode.

This review, along with an interview with Minus The Bear, can be found in the current issue of Substream Magazine, on sale now!