A Tropical Plane of Absurd Relaxation: An Analysis of Minus the Bear’s Pachuca Sunrise

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Minus the Bear released Pachuca Sunrise on their 2005 record Menos El Oso (Eponymously titled en espeñol). Menos El Oso is a record that encapsulates the band’s iconic sound. I think there are two important elements to Minus the Bear. The first, Dave Knudson’s (pronounced Kuh-nood-son) Motzart-esque chopped and screwed guitar lines using his set of Line 6 DL4 Delay pedals. He infuses elements of electronic music into a rock band with “real” instruments. Speeding up a riff until it is 2x faster and 2 octaves higher, then triggering that over another riff Knudson is simultaneously playing is a hallmark of this band. The second is vocalist Jake Snider. The singing on Menos El Oso is not virtuosic in the same way as Knudson’s guitar playing. There is a careful dynamic between the two. Take a song like “Drilling”, it crescendos with the intensity of a band like Circa Survive, maintaining its melodic prowess with slamming guitars while its verses glisten with ambient textures and glitchy arpeggio. The vocals follow along on this continuum giving added meaning to the wax and wane of Minus the Bear songs.

Photo of Dave Knudson’s Pedalboard, Property of Premiere Guitar: https://www.premierguitar.com/gear/rig-rundown-minus-the-bears-dave-knudson-jake-snider-and-cory-murchy

No other band feels like Minus The Bear. To me, they exist on a tropical plane of absurd relaxation. I am transported to a beach in an undisclosed location when I press play. Their songs drift calmly into ballads, like Diamond Lightening, from 2012’s Infinity Overhead (truly, their most beautiful song). Cold Company, the closing track form the same record, rips you into a post-hardcore riff hurricane. The storm is strong and ever shifting, smoothly transitioning into synthesized textures whisking you into a realm of the band’s design. Hyperreal colors emanate from all speakers that play their tunes. 

The Song

No song exemplifies this feeling more than Pachuca Sunrise from 2005s Menos El Oso. The opening riff immediately captures your attention carried on the waves of choral synths. Knudson is triggering live samples on his DL4. As he tap dances on his pedal board triggering loops as he accompanies himself, fretting neck-spanning chord structures (all in standard tuning). Snider’s opening lyric “Midnight on a beach in the mediterranean…” solidifies our setting in the shifting space of land and sea, between night and morning. Snider sings about a love that he’s lost, presumably a breakup.

Don’t cry, I’ll bring this home to you 
If I can make this night light enough to move

If he could just pack the light from the moon into his carryon luggage there may be a chance of returning home with a solution. The instruments reflect the chorus’s manic thought with a shift to ska-esque off-beat guitar strums. A bit of optimism shines a la Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s important to pause on this moment of the song because it returns multiple times in Pachuca’s pop song structure. Its repetition in my view flips the notion of a chorus on its head. The obvious fact is, as hard as one might try, one cannot physically capture the night sky. The rumination on this point for Snider only reinforces his dissociation from the present moment. Take ‘The Middle’ by Jimmy Eat World for a contrasting example. A smash-hit about an outcast being encouraged to take her time because, ultimately, self-acceptance is more important than the opinions of others. The chorus:

It just takes some time
Little girl your in the middle of the ride
Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything will be alright

The beauty of this chorus is that it is cathartic and transcendent. Themes of “feeling left out” or “looked down on” are overcome with reassurance that everything will be alright. I don’t mean to be so clinical about transcendence. Compared to Pachuca sunrise where the transcendent moment is more of an out-of-body panic. Instead of overcoming the problem at hand we are consumed by it. 

In a McConaughey moment of genius, Knudson and team recover from this black hole of a departure to transition back into the verse of the song, which brings back sampled guitars and synth textures. Balance is restored. The lyrics paint the scene in even more detail, the city on the sea calls like a siren of the Odyssey. He doesn’t know whether to dive into the water or go back to his hotel. There is doom in his voice as he delivers the line “The time is getting thin”. It’s probable in Snider’s state that he doesn’t even know who he is. He’s becoming one with the perfect unity of his setting, the mediterranean city, the cargo ships on the infinite night sky and the equally infinite helplessness he feels. The chorus snaps back once again to capture this hypnotizing night. Maybe he can fix this, the moment is mesmerizing and convincing. The bridge of the song swirls in the same trance as the last verse. We lose the concept of time and the divide of sleep between days slips away beneath Snider’s eyelids. 

This is a city for not sleeping 
And the clock clocks are set by feel
At this moment from where I sit
None of it seems real

The narrator is fully losing himself and his grip on reality. Mentions of divides of time, distance, horizon lines and so on throughout the song imply the space between. The setting and the circumstance of being lonely in that space has a surreal quality. We’re left to ponder if Snider can unstick the night from its conceptual boundaries in the last chorus. Snider’s voice is ultimately overtaken by the rhythms of the bass guitar, the break beats of the drums and the final twinkles of Knudson’s guitar. We’re left to wonder.

Closing Thoughts

Pachuca Sunrise is not a song that anybody tells you to listen to, it’s not “Stairway to Heaven” or “Hey Jude”. I think if you like Minus the Bear you have a complicated relationship to this song. A band’s most popular song can be a point of contention among fans. Whether we can actually articulate what makes a song great is up for debate. The feeling I get from Pachuca is completely transporting. I feel like I am in the song. Not all my favorite songs do that. Some songs are so visceral that they seem to support my feelings of anger or sadness. Others just make me want to mindlessly dance. Pachuca Sunrise encapsulates a between feeling.

The beauty of this song is in the unique account of paradise. Knudson’s guitar twinkles like moonlight reflecting on a wave. The synth fills the space of the track with sublime textures. These sonic qualities imbue the song with a sense of novelty. Snider plays into this sense of amazement. On initial listen I think it would be easy to assume that this was a song about love, not heartbreak. To me, the juxtaposition of the tone of the song and its content makes it worth exploring.

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