They may call this math rock but -- contrary to the attempt at pigeonholing -- it rarely gets boring. Which is usually a good sign that the usual musical designations don't really apply to Minus the Bear. The only question that comes up during a casual or earnest listen to their latest release, Highly Refined Pirates, is this: where would you place these guys if you had to? Then comes the rejoinder: who cares? Filled with complex guitar fingerwork, aural synth embellishment, and spiraling arrangements that recall everything from King Crimson to More Songs About Building and Food-era Talking Heads to later work from bands like Fugazi (especially The Argument) and Juno, Highly Refined Pirates is a trip through what's great about newer indie rock that doesn't sound like it's trying to be punk without the danger. Many songs on Highly Refined Pirates float ethereally above their conventionally driving drum and guitar lines, and pack a serious lyrical punch to boot. Such as "Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo" -- comedy! -- which boasts one of the coolest choruses ever committed to memory ("You said, 'My life's like a bad movie'/I said, 'That's true of all of us'/You said 'I've got to wake up so f**king early'/I said 'Maybe the director's turned on us'). Or "Let's Play Guitar in a Five-Guitar Band," a dense collection of echo-heavy vocals, light arpeggiation, distant distortion, and enough hammer-ons to make Eddie Van Halen proud. But the greatest thing about this Minus the Bear album is that it doesn't let its sonic complexity go to its head. Each of Highly Refined Pirates' songs is filled with tongue-in-cheek lyrical wordplay (like that cited above) or entitled with toss-off lines from Paul Verhoeven's outer space soap opera, Starship Troopers (samples: "You Kill Bugs Good, Man" or "Damn Bugs Whacked Him, Johnny"). Al in all, Highly Refined Pirates will probably satisfy the music notation nerds, the indie cynics, and the random listener searching for something indefinite in a saturated pop landscape looking to hawk the usual boring band du jour.
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AllMusic Review by Scott Thill