Minus The Bear occupy an entirely awkward position within their own musical sphere; they’re from the Pacific Northwest, but their own particular brand of indie rock doesn’t quite fit in with the titans of the region, whether it be godfathers of grunge like Nirvana or Pearl Jam or the altogether more refined likes of Death Cab For Cutie and The Decemberists. That’s something that their long-held penchant for experimentation has seen to, which is perhaps why a record quite like Lost Loves doesn’t feel like a massive stretch for them, or something to be approached in a manner that takes a lack of cohesion as a given; after all, in the past, that’s often been the cases with Minus the Bear releases proper, anyway.
Lost Loves is actually a compilation of unreleased tracks; in effect, cuts that were lopped off of the original running orders for their five albums to date. It’s not entirely unreasonable, then, to go in expecting not only an album that’s going to feel disjointed - after all, these songs come from different sessions - but also one that might be as stylistically diffuse as anything they’ve managed to produce to date; top of the list of hastily-jumped-to conclusions about why these tracks didn’t make any kind of original cut would surely be that they were perhaps a little too out there even for the group’s famously eclectic tastes.
In fact, neither assumption really proves true; for one, these songs sound weirdly at home with each other. Perhaps it’s the running order, but the expansive, almost spacey “Surf-n’-Turf” - a track flecked with punk influence - doesn’t sound especially out of place next to “Broken China”, a song that’s ostensibly pretty restrained, but gradually fizzes towards a noisy chorus courtesy of some irrepressible work behind the kit from Erin Tate. Similarly, it’s also the case that there’s nothing totally esoteric in terms of stylistic approach on Lost Loves; Bear fans hoping for some acid-jazz freakouts will be disappointed.
Instead, if there’s any kind of unifying characteristic where these songs are concerned, it’s probably in terms of just how epic some of these tracks sound in isolation; opener “Electric Rainbow” simmers towards some aggressively-angular guitar work towards the close and features an aggressive vocal from frontman Jake Snider, whilst ‘South Side Life’ and ‘Your Private Sky’ tread a similar path; the latter, in particular, seems to shoot pretty much exclusively for the Bear signature move of anchoring off-kilter verses with a monster of a chorus.
By rights, releases like Lost Loves should really represent a crossing into strict fans-only territory, but not only does this particular set of songs work together in impressive fashion, I also can’t help but feel like it might not represent the worst possible entry point to the band to Minus The Bear’s work for the uninitiated. Sure, it’s not their most nuanced piece of work to date, but it does boil down many of the key components of the band’s sound to something that feels universally accessible; you get the feeling that this is a rarities compilation that’s actually been put together intelligently, and there’s no overstating just how rare that is.