Album Review: Polar Bear – Peepers

March 16, 2010

Good Night Abstraction

Concept: British drummer Seb Rochford’s “post”-jazz group is back with their fourth LP.

Sound: Polar Bear is about as cool by contemporary pop standards as jazz bands get without riding into primetime TV on the coattails of an aging alternative rock star, and they didn’t have to scrap their artistic integrity to do so. Not ostentatiously technical, not necessarily innovative — instead, clever and thoughtful. Most importantly, they have a habit of being oh so catchy, as on their potentially classic sophomore album Held On The Tips Of Fingers. Each album proving distinct, the follow-up went quite an opposite direction for the most part, and with Peepers comes the introduction of a backing guitarist and a revision of their previously explored styles. The band has freed up somewhat. Their poignant melancholy has burst in two, and the result might be compared to being read a bedtime story while the monster under your bed shifts its weight impatiently. The album vacillaties between a sublime dusk and threatening lurches of noise. Of the latter nature, Drunken Pharoah is the strongest piece, a ramshackle stomping sarcophagus with its hands full, dropping parts as it recollects others. Bump and Scream are satisfactory interludes, but nothing more. The piece Peepers itself, while strong in essence and slightly reminiscent of Polar Bear’s beloved early sound, contains some moments in its solos on the album version that are perhaps too awkward, however intentional they may be. The real centerpiece, unique and masterful, is A New Morning Will Come. Rarely is a piece both so hushed and so heavy. It’s as if the band was warming up and never started. They just dove deep into the tenuous glow of that pregnant moment every band knows. Every moment of it is valuable, comforting, and strange.

Lyrics: None, which is a pity, as the band’s past attempts at this have been subtle and moving.

Quick And Dirty: A diamond in the rough, as a whole imperfect but not easily forgotten. Still a band to watch, both live and figuratively. (♦♦♦♦)

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