(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Recording review - Polar Bear Club, Death Chorus (2013)

Well-seasoned, but too tired for pop punk

"You can strum your hardest and get away with hoping for the best.Death Chorus leads off with “Blood Balloon” and the lyrics and tone reflect a well-seasoned perspective, with a wry and jaded pungence. Ironically, Polar Bear Club lead singer Jimmy Stadt sounds younger than ever, abandoning his usual scream-burnished voice for a fresher, cleaner sound. Despite that change, the ringing clash of guitars that kick off the tune anchors the band to their thrashy roots. The song is powered by a sharp contrast between the relentless drive of the glib verses and the frustrated howl of the chorus. The bridge floats for a brief moment of wishful optimism before Stadt gives it up for the comfort of cynicism: “Romanticize the past while the future’s in full collapse.” That line alone sums up the whole album. Although Death Chorus is full of hard rocking guitars, they’re overshadowed by hindsight and regret. “Blood Balloon” sets the recipe for most the songs that follow: equal parts pointed attitude, calloused rough edges, and bleeding emotion fill the album with a grown-up version of pop punk. Where most of their peers aspire to be little more than Green Day clones, Polar Bear Club sounds more like a raw tribute to the classic power pop of the Pursuit of Happiness. That band’s biggest hit was the sourly sarcastic “I’m an Adult Now”, which is apropos because these guys are struggling with childhood’s end and an inability to turn back the clock.

As a result, Polar Bear Club is consumed with ambivalence about the past; they hate wallowing in memories, but they still hold a reverence for golden moments that won’t come again. This is often explicit, as on “Graph Paper Glory Days” and “Chicago Spring”, but it sometimes lies in the subtext, as on “For Show”. This theme seems rooted in Stadt’s personal sense of a generation gap with the band’s younger fans, which he touched on in passing during an interview last year on Mind Equals Blown. He doesn't seem to realize that, at 28, it’s too early to be so hung up on replaying history.

To some extent, the band’s obsession with retrospection grounds the album’s more overwrought emotional spikes. In that context, the chest-beating histrionics read true as an honest reflection of the band’s head space. Unfortunately, while there are several decent songs, it weighs down the album. It’s telling that the best track is the sonic outlier, “Siouxsie Jeanne”. Dropping the pounding guitar front, the band keeps it soft and simple for a late night confession of love. The vocals are wistful and moving enough to sell weaker lines like, “I’m not you, but you’re me/ A thought, not yet a woman or a girl/ Let’s say girl, forever we’ll say girl.” The intensity climbs with the emotional soul-baring, showing off Stadt’s stronger singing chops. This song connects because the pain is rawer and less filtered by the album’s pervasive sense of fatalism.

Late twenties is hardly old, but Polar Bear Club sounds too worn down for pop punk. Rather than try to recapture the cocky pose that the style calls for, the band should consider letting their music grow up to match their more mature point of view. The good news is that, while Death Chorus isn't a gem, it is a sign of a band that’s not attempting to hold on to permanent adolescence. At some level, they’re already self-aware enough to recognize it: “I guess everyone is part perfect storm and part broken song.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

No comments:

Post a Comment