Four albums in, Minus the Bear wanted a fresh perspective. Each album, prior to May's release of Omni, had been produced by Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis), who also played keyboards on them. Those albums were characterized by intricately plotted arrangements in a cloudy Northwestern-gray shade that seemed dreamy, graceful and distant. Cold beauty echoed through the crafted latticework threaded with busy drums, wafting post-punk guitar atmospheres and subtle synth texture.
While it's possible to hear the key elements of Omni in those discs -- a soul-soaked sway, bright bursts of pop melodys and an unmistakable '70s vibe -- the extent to which producer Joe Chiccarelli brings them out is shocking. This is, after all, a fellow who, despite recent work with hip acts like My Morning Jacket, Manchester Orchestra and The Shins, cut his teeth engineering the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Journey's Infinity. Minus the Bear gave Chiccarelli free reign, and he helped sand down the group's knotty corners, revealing sleek, mid-tempo funk that betrays MtB's listening diet of R&B and Steely Dan during the album's creation.
Omni's easily the band's most approachable release on several levels. Working primarily from practice-space jams, the musicians recorded (for the first time) live in the studio, evoking a warmer, more organic energy than anything previously. Some fans will be disappointed, but you can't fault a band for exploring new territory after a decade together. As David Banner's swinging Gatorade ad suggests, you've got to evolve. I'm down with it so long as they don't stop or linger too long here.
Minus the Bear with Everest and Keepaway. 8 p.m. Sat., July 10. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $17.50. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com