CD REVIEW: Polar Bear – Same As You

"Polar Bear – Same As You
(The Leaf Label. BAY 98CD . CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

More than a decade on from their first release, Dim Lit, Polar Bear have taken their sharpest change of tack yet with Same As You.

One gets a feeling that this album,
finished during an intimate six week stint shored up in the Mojave Desert, may be the closest that listeners have gotten until now to an understanding of the ever- enigmatic and musically multi-faceted Sebastian Rochford. The opening spoken word piece Life Love and Light was written and recited by Asar Mikael, a friend of Rochford's from Tottenham. It is a semi-spiritual sermon full of magnanimous wisdom and set over faint organ strains, and very much sets the tone of the record.

We Feel The Echoes is perhaps the start of the album proper, with Mark Lockheart and Pete Wareham combining - one tenor gently setting a context with the other rising over it - before embarking on quiet conversational solo tangents. The saxophones swap in and out, rising and falling as Tom Herbert's double bass anchors the group. Sounds all but cease before the Rochford's busy percussion creeps back into the frame, and ambient bass and subliminal sax return.

This very distant and minimal feel is surrendered a little as more recognisable Polar Bear emerges on The First Steps. The trademark interwoven tenor lines play out with more animation here over the urgent polyrhythmic backing that develops. Unrelenting Unconditional fulfills its earnest title with innocent clean sax melodies soaring over driving folk percussion and searching bass. It is slower paced and more reminiscent of Andy Sheppard's Nocturnal Tourist period say, than Polar Bear's own hustle and blustering bustle from some of their previous works.

The majority of tracks here pull up in a leisurely fashion and, after an interlude, drift off into the horizon. This is a pattern which makes Same As You very much a laid-back record.The delicate production focuses on the drums and bass, with the two saxophones left reverberating next door in the echo chamber instead of taking centre stage as they sometimes do. However the album's single Dont Let The Feeling Go takes a slightly more energetic attitude, opening with a solid yet patient bouncing bass line and contrasting Hannah Darling's clear vocals with Rochford's rougher singing style. The characteristic jaunty meandering sax middle period ends with a vocal reprise as the positive theme is reiterated. It returns once again at the end of the album.

Rochford has remarked that “the album is about love and positivity”, and while this is expressly clear in the lyrics on the two vocal tracks, what is so impressive is how he has made the other compositions exude his "wellbeing and happiness," too. This CD put me in thoughtful mood, so if I'm the "same as you", or even just simialr, it should have an equivalent effect, if you let it.

Same As You is released on 30/03/2015

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