It's a wonderfully liberating sense of release and control in even measure that makes...
Chris Jones 2008
It's now three years on from Polar Bear's last album, Held On The Tips Of Fingers. It's not surprising that it's taken the band a while to get back in the studio and put something substantial together. The shock-headed and ubiquitous Seb Rochford has been working on so much stuff in the last couple of years in and out of the F-IRE collective, that we should be grateful that he had the time to return to this fabulous combo. The self-titled third album is a triumph.
This time around, rather than Rochford and bassist, Tom Herbert, being the lynchpins, it's been left to the drifting lo-fi tenor sax combo of Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart to lead us into the Bear's world of vaguely dubby, glitchy, but always groovesome post-jazz. But this isn't to say that the bass doesn't hold the centre like the biggest, most dependable hitching post you could care to tether your improv horse to. There's rather more of a slinky Carribbean aspect to the mix now, like Sonny Rollins fed through Supercollider. Opener, Tay, shimmies into the room riding on Herbert's bass, and Tomlovesalicelovestom is a spry skip through the most charming tune they've yet written. Leafcutter John's contributions are never overly pushy, though on this number he uses squeaks and squalls to dot the track with Clanger-like noises. If the Alice referred to is Coltrane, she'd approve of the cosmic bufoonery, I'm sure. Meanwhile Voices finds the band in pure digital land, filled up with chiming itchy bells and Industry is a crawl through breathy melancholy and exclamation. Like another track, It Snows Again, there's a gradual bulid up of tension that speaks volumes about the way in which they approach their work these days.
For a band who could, at the drop of a hat, shred wallpaper if they so desired, Polar Bear is a surprisingly restrained affair, but that's no disappointment. Rather, the tunes and grooves contained herein speak of maturity, consideration and a great sense of just when to get weird on our collective asses.
The second track (perversely titled Goodbye) breaks into a space invaders-in-Birdland place halfway through, but always the theme's nailed again before the closing two minutes of post-Soft Machine repeat and drone electronica. Equally perversely named, Joy Jones, ends it all with beautifully funereal dissonance. It's a wonderfully liberating sense of release and control in even measure that makes Polar Bear such a fine record. Welcome back, boys...