It’s rarely a good idea for artists to revisit and rework their creations. In the case of musicians, this means they shouldn’t put out remix albums. With a few exceptions scattered among the vast collection of records drifting out in the ether, remix albums suck. There are basically two kinds of remix albums — the dance-y, techno kind and the difficult, experimental kind. The techno types are usually annoying, while the experimental ones settle for being frustrating.
Nonetheless, rock band Minus the Bear have decided to defy conventional music wisdom and put out a collection of remixes entitled Interpretaciones del Oso, which reworks their 2005 release, Menos el Oso. Now, despite the intricate, time signature juggling nature of their music, Minus the Bear are a catchy pop rock band. Their songs are ridiculously hard to play on guitar, but they sure are fun to hear. So, given the already infectious nature of Menos el Oso, Intrepretaciones del Oso aims for the more experimental route. Each of the album’s 11 tracks was sent to a different artist for reconfiguration, with mostly crappy results. But there are some solid remixes on Interpretaciones del Oso as well, and when they crop up, they not only complement their subject matter, but stand on their own as good songs. Not just “good for a remix,” but “good,” without qualifications tacked on, even though I kind of added one here just now.
The album starts off promisingly enough with a reworking of “Drilling,” provided by P.O.S. It’s also the only track that attempts to increase the band’s catchiness. P.O.S. accomplishes such a goal by streamlining the rhythm section, giving “Drilling” a more hip-hop-oriented percussion section. There’s other bits of remixing on the song, but the “goo-goo kah, goo kah-goo” of the drums are what the listener will be sure to remember. P.O.S.’ take on “Drilling” is an amazing opening track.
But the momentum P.O.S. builds is quickly killed off by the second song, FOG’s remix of “Memphis and 53rd.” FOG lives up to its name by increasing the haze of the track, taking it to shoegaze-like levels of guitar squall. But without a cohesive melody, it just sounds like noise. The same problem later crops up on the IQU 06 mix of “This Ain’t a Surfin’ Movie.”
The rest of the first half of Interpretaciones del Oso plays it a bit safer by trying to turn Minus the Bear into a druggy club-mix band. But, again, that’s redundant, and irksome to boot. The remixes of “Fulfill the Dream” and “The Fiz” are grating and unoriginal.
A reprieve comes in the form of “Hooray [Dark Baby Remix].” Rather than tweak the structure of “Hooray,” Dark Baby cuts out the vocals and takes Lego-like pieces of the song in order to build something totally new. It’s electronica in the style of Daft Punk, with a slight 8-bit video game vibe to it. But as niche as that might be, it works.
More haze accompanies the second half of the disc, but there are two more songs worth mentioning to MtB fans — “Pachuca Sunrise” and “The Pig War.” The Alias take on “Pachuca Sunrise” is unquestionably the best remix on Interpretaciones del Oso. Like P.O.S., Alias dims down the guitars and puts the emphasis on the drums and vox. The result is a much more chilled out version, one that gently rolls along. It also complements the lovesick lyrics about separation and broken promises which frontman Jake Snider sings about. Alias’ “Pachuca Sunrise” is so good that it even bests its source material.
The other interesting remix is “The Pig War,” as arranged by O, Hunter (aka Morgan Henderson of The Blood Brothers). Henderson creates a sleepy, minimalist song here. Mixing the slightest snippet of vocals (Snider’s lonely “Oh” alone) with a heck of a lot of wind instruments, acoustic guitars and, later, synths, Henderson creates a gorgeously orchestral number. It’s a lot mellower, though, which might turn off some listeners. It’s compelling along the same lines as Björk’s experimental remix album, Telegram. But the adjustments made aren’t just liberal: they’re liberating.
Overall, Interpretaciones del Oso is kind of boring and uninspired. But, the four good tracks discussed here are just enough to make it essential for Minus the Bear fans. “Drilling,” “Hooray,” “Pachuca Sunrise” and “The Pig War” were already great on Menos el Oso, but Interpretaciones del Oso gives them a second, equally brilliant aspect.