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[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Minus the Bear
Highly Refined Pirates
Suicide Squeeze

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Okay, I get it now. Highly Refined Pirates, the title of Minus the Bear's most recent album, is apparently inside joke between the members of Minus the Bear, an allusion to the fact that they are indeed polished in the art of ripping people off. The Seattle five-piece, whose name is almost always preceded by the name of their point of origin and followed by a parenthetical reference to their pedigree of largely forgettable post-punk bands (Botch, Sharks Keep Moving, Kill Sadie), bring a question to my mind- is innovation dead? If it is, does it really matter? Is innovation a requirement? After all, last year Yo La Tengo birthed The Sounds of the Sounds of Science, an album that found its way to my Top Ten list in December without being much in the way of innovative. As it turned out I was virtually alone in my praise for YLT, the Hobokenites tallying only 7 points in the final voting, the same number as this very release by Seattle's Minus the Bear (see!). Of course Yo La Tengo are masters of ripping themselves off, of blurring the lines of outside influence to the degree that any lineage of ideas is almost impossible to recognize, whereas Minus the Bear seem to be more than happy with simply hijacking bits of their collective indie rock memory and puking them back up over and over.

Are the pentad competent? Yes, beyond reproach. Are they creative? Maybe not so much. The music of Highly Refined Pirates is taught enough to send a baby bird feather recoiling in the opposite direction on contact, a wafer of electronics separating the rich creamery of layered guitars, nimble and precise. But who hasn't already heard that? No matter how proficient they are at their craft their albums, at least in the case of Highly Refined Pirates, could hardly be considered the best of anything. The trouble that Minus the Bear run into is that if a listener's criteria for a band trumping its peers and influences (which is completely necessary if their slice of CD is to ever make it out of the case and into the stereo) includes innovation as a requirement for excellence, they're basically facing a life sentence in the living room tower sandwiched between A Minor Forest and the Minus Tide, collecting dust. Just to be sure I wasn't underestimating the fivesome I downloaded some music from their first album, This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic. But rather than having revelation I was confronted by confusion- did I download some sort of secret track from Highly Refined Pirates? Oddly enough the most remarkable aspect of this album is the fact that it even exists, that someone didn't pull the plug when it was obvious that the ideas on this album were nearly identical to their first outing.

After sitting through a quarter hour's worth of 1990's indie rock revue, Highly Refined Pirates does little to dispel the myth that young white boy in America have little in the way of tribulation outside the over-documented pursuit of young white girls, inhalants and the perpetual buzz of alcohol. For all the neat little hospital corners, there is little in the way of actual effort on this album. Connections to the likes of Jawbox and the Dismemberment Plan cannot be avoided, and the band couldn't even find the time to conjure up creative song titles, instead using lines from the film Starship Troopers. As it turns out Highly Refined Pirates is the most appropriate title Minus the Bear could have given themselves.

Reviewed by Lukas Shipman

See other reviews by Lukas Shipman



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