Polar Bear Club

Chasing Hamburg

Written by: PP on 22/10/2009 22:17:53

Disclaimer: a long review ahead. For a long while, Polar Bear Club was my favorite band. Their debut full length "Sometimes Things Just Disappear" didn't leave my stereo/iPod for almost 6 months straight. I loved every bit of their live set at The Gaslight Anthem show even though the venue was more than half empty when they played, and the moment I entered the venue I even bought a fucking expensive hoodie. Even today, the record is a regular guest on my playlist. The reason? It's simply one of the best, if not the very best, records from 2008. If you haven't listened to it yet, now's the fucking time. Don't believe me? Check the other dozens upon dozens of 9/10, 10/10 ratings that you'll find on almost any site that reviewed the record. Talk about universal acclaim. Now you may wonder why I used past tense when talking about my favorite band, right? Well the reason is simple: their sophomore album "Chasing Hamburg" feels like driving 180km/h on a German motorway, and having to change to the middle lane because some asshole races past you at 280km/h on a Ferrari Enzo. In other words, while it's still no doubt a good album, it doesn't hold a candle to "Sometimes Things Just Disappear". It just doesn't have the same impact on the listener.

There are many reasons why, but the most obvious one is that the emotionally charged hoarse delivery of vocalist Jimmy Stadt has changed from amazing to merely 'good'. My fellow scribe TL mentioned in his recent Brand New review that the emotions were so much more restrained and internalized on the previous album in comparison to "Daisy", and that's something that applies very much here as well. In the past, Stadt used to explode into great lyrics like "Today I reached into a shitter and saw the inmost part of me, my reflection has looked better, BUT NEVER CLEAAAAN" or "I've been driving with the rear view mirror, who guessed it would BE NO CLEARER?", where his rough screams were full of restrained passion, of the sort of indirect anger that most bands can only dream of. Here, Stadt's vocals feel much more opened up and direct. They're also much brighter (as are the guitars), with the result that "Chasing Hamburg" feels like a much happier record. Maybe you can't blame the band considering the snowballing success they had in the last 12 months overseas, elevating their band from a local act to winning several album of the year prizes, but its unfortunate side effect is that the songs don't creep up and overwhelm you like they used to do. A good example is a song like "Drifting Thing", which feels almost like a pop punk/pop rock songs (on Polar Bear Club standards, anyway) thanks to Stadt's clean voice and chord-based guitars. What happened to the angular riffs and the genius lyrics delivered with astonishing vocal melodies? Where did they go in the space of just one short year?

That being said, not all hope is lost though because there are three tracks on this record which could've been on "Sometimes Things Just Disappear": "Living Saints" and "Boxes", both of which were on the EP preceding this release, have both grown immensely on me, leading me to wonder how on earth I could've said the latter is missing the "wow" element in the review. But if you have the EP already, you're left with pretty much "One Hit Back", a fast-paced song where the angular guitars finally make a welcome return alongside with Stadt's great lyricism, both of which have been largely missing from this record. Coming back to the vocals point I made earlier, there were just so many more catch phrases on "Sometimes..." than here. I can only remember "Can't refute on the message boards / so I'll piss and moan to power chords / and that's okay / one song is all you get from me" on "One Hit Back", those few lines I mentioned in the EP review, and maybe the "Know me... knoooooooow me"'s of "Song To Persona".

It's true that "Chasing Hamburg" is an incredibly difficult album to write after an effort that was considered near-perfect by so many. And it's not like the songs are bad: "Take Me To The Town", "Chasing Hamburg", "Song To Persona" and "See The Win" are all good songs... they just don't match the quality of tracks like "Our Ballads" or "Burned Out In A Jar". Perhaps my expectations for the record were too high, but honestly, I'm on my 6th week of listening and I still haven't felt the urge to take this album with me and go on a late night walk alone near the channels where I live, something that I did frequently with the previous album, simply because I couldn't think of anything that would've been more awesome than listening to that record in complete peace and silence. While I desperately try to avoid thinking about "Chasing Hamburg" as a sophomore slump, ultimately that's how I feel about it, except you'd have to replace slump with something softer and nicer instead. But who knows, maybe it'll still grow on me.


Download: One Hit Back, Boxes, Living Saints
For the fans of: Small Brown Bike, Hot Water Music, Title Fight, Scream Hello
Listen: Myspace

Release date 22.09.2009
Bridge 9

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