Intricate guitar athletics, vicious grooves and serious vibes topped by slick n' sultry vocals: these are the things we have come to love and in many ways expect from Seattle's Minus The Bear - a band that has been consistently dealing out earworm melodies and impressive instrumentation in equally hefty measures since their venerated cult classic Highly Refined Pirates dropped a decade ago. Now on their fifth studio album, their progression towards more mature territory whilst letting a penchant for song titles like 'Hey, Wanna Throw Up?' fall by the wayside has never felt more apparent. That isn't to say that they've lost their progressive edge in terms of structure, but the playful unpredictability of their earlier releases has been replaced by a stronger sense of flow and consistency - opener 'Steel and Blood' isn't sonically far off early Biffy Clyro in that respect.
Produced by their former key-master Matt Bayles, Infinity Overhead finds Minus The Bear (for the most part) leaving any interest in pumping out electro-indie dancefloor bangers behind them, and instead threading together elements of each previous album without revisiting any of them too harshly. Although the pop sensibilities and sharp synthesisers of 2010's Omni still have a heavy presence within the instrumental framework as a whole, they have adopted a more comfortable, unobtrusive presence in the mix, with Jake Snider's vocals taking up their rightful place at the forefront - uppercut in all the right places by pulsating drum beats and waves of delayed guitar riffs. As a whole, those who are fans of Minus The Bear for their fretboard workouts may be a little disappointed with this record. There is a lack of tap-heavy trickery here in comparison to previous releases, but you will find that the moments which are featured slot more comfortably into Infinity Overhead's deeply carved grooves.
With tracks like 'Diamond Lightning' and 'Listing' traversing sonically lush, layered landscapes similar to those that commanded on Planet Of Ice (unsurprising, considering Bayles also produced that record), the upbeat and guitar jam-filled 'Zeros' channeling Highly Refined Pirates, and the synth-heavy 'Lonely Gun' pulling strong influences from Omni, there is a fair amount of diversity on Infinity Overhead, but it has enough character of its own to not sound overly familiar. With its syncopated rhythms and dynamic instrumentation, 'Lies and Eyes' is far and away one of the best tracks on the album. Lyrically, Minus The Bear have always been fairly indirect, cryptic, or - in the earlier days - littered with pop-culture references, but with the opening lines "He regrets having no regrets/ And his long nights on the outside," 'Lies and Eyes' is a good example of Snider making a move towards a more personal approach. Then you get to 'Heaven is a Ghost Town' where he starts knocking out loads of repeated lines questioning whether the lord has paid his lease or not and you're back on familiar ground. Not that there's anything bogus about that - the appeal of Minus The Bear has never lay too heavily in the lyrical content. No one really knows what Getting Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo actually involves, you just understand that you really want to be doing it, like, loads.
Unfortunately, for every lustrous 'Lies and Eyes' there is an 'Empty Party Rooms' (which is just as exciting as its title implies), where the punchy but linear riffs don't quite make up for the buried melodies. For all its killer glory moments, there are points of Infinity Overhead that feel a little too forced without fully achieving the intended impact. A technically proficient record with some shimmering moments of genius, but for the most part it lacks long-lasting punch.