You would expect Planet of Ice to be techie, meticulous, and exciting indie-rock with an experimental bent and unrestrained passion in both the musicianship and the lyrics. But fans of the Seattle band’s audacious 2002 debut, Highly Refined Pirates, will be more than disappointed by its third proper LP. The cool detachment and formulaic approach make me feel as if I’m somehow being cheated.
This isn’t to say Planet of Ice is a travesty; “Dr. L’Ling” is an energetic highlight, and opener “Burying Luck” and “Knights” are intriguing and straightforward and still slightly askew and above the traditional rock format — although “Knights,” with its processed finger-tapping and synth riff, too closely recalls “The Fix” from 2005’s Menos El Oso. It’s as if they were recorded in the same session, which doesn’t sit well for a band whose appeal comes largely from its ability to remain consistently on the cutting edge.
Singer Jake Snider’s vocals lack the urgency and passion of his previous output, but that’s not the major problem. The issue is that the band’s style — subdued, danceable rock with moments of cathartic thrashing — is stripped of everything but the subdued element. When Snider sings, “I’m becoming a casual business man/ On matters of the heart,” on “Dr. L’Ling,” he may as well be talking about his approach to the album; he gets up everyday, goes to work, makes the music, and goes home. But where’s the risk, and where’s the reward?
The album flows seamlessly from song to song, but the overall feel is sedated. There are no explosions, nothing to wait for but the next equally similar track. The second half of closer “Lotus,” after a boisterous — and welcomed — outro, falls into gazing, moody, Pink Floyd territory, which works well for Pink Floyd and no one else. Ask Tool.
Given their previous albums, it seems unfair that the members of Minus the Bear took no significant chances on Planet of Ice. Playing it safe is never fun.