Review: Polar Bear, The Lantern

23 April 2015

Image: Jacek Zmarz

Image: Jacek Zmarz

Polar Bear are experiencing a joyful rejuvenation at present. Following a prolonged hiatus after 2012’s Peepers, the band resuscitated itself with last year’s exquisite In Each and Every One, an album which chopped between the brash and the mournful melodic. Clearly Polar Bear, and the humble band leader Seb Rochford, hit a rich vein of creativity, from which has come their latest release Same As You, already described as “incandescently bright”, and “yet another fascinating and beautifully crafted album in Polar Bears peerless discography”. 

Recorded in the solar-drenched surrounds of LA and even the Mojave Desert, the record is in many ways the band’s sun salutation, with a lighter and more playful tone than it’s brooding predecessor. Incredibly for such a fine outfit, Polar Bear arrive on stage at The Lantern almost apologetically, Rochford thanking the audience for “sharing your night with us”. Opener ‘We Feel the Echoes’ features siren-like brass, without a standout melody and instead placing emphasis on the trembling percussion. With Tom Herbert scratching his double bass like croaking frogs, early on it is indicated that Mark Lockheart’s saxophone playing will be warmer than his more anarchic brass brother, Peter Wareham.

The follow-up ‘The First Steps’ showcases Wareham’s virtuosity, his saxophone driving the track, with Leafcutter John embellishing with wave-like sound effects. The majestic ‘Of Hi Lands’ sees Herbert using a bow while simultaneously tuning his bass, and the twin saxophones start to really play off each other, concluding the song like dying birds – it truly is a pleasure to watch the seemingly telepathic Lockheart and Wareham almost toying with each other before coming together melodically.

The single from Same As You, ‘Don’t Let the Feeling Go’, brings in Rochford and the rest of the band’s surprisingly adept and affecting vocals. The drummer playfully goes along with the audience’s request to “sing ABBA” and “play something we don’t know” before launching into the percussion for ‘We Will Rock You’, and then they finish their set with the epic ‘Unrelenting Unconditional’.

Tonight’s gig reinforces the fact that when watching Polar Bear, you are witnessing some of the finest musicians and musicianship around, the band members able to play around with melody and time sequence at will. The set-up has undeniably been enhanced by the permanent addition of Leafcutter John on electronics, whose innovative whirring and metronomic additions are the icing on the cake with many tracks.

Last year Rochford spoke about a kind of freedom that came to him ahead of In Each and Every One, which gave him the creative energy to produce the album. It seems that the gap years the band took have done wonders for their musical unity, and it can only be hoped that their current form can be maintained for a lot longer yet.

Conal Dougan