Polar Bear Club: Looking Back
Polar Bear Club: Clash Battle Guilt Pride
I get nostalgic about punk groups that I grew up listening to whenever I hear Polar Bear Clubs record Clash Battle Guilt Pride. I initially became a fan of the group after hearing their strong debut album Sometimes Things Just Disappear--it was the right combination of aggressive vocals, emo-esque guitar licks with a pinch of Dag Nasty twang, driven by Emmett Menke's creative drumming. I'm sad to say that Clash Battle Guilt Pride was group's third, and final, full-length recording with the drummer.
Menke's drumming style is a solid amalgam of pocket pushing mid temp punk grooves and melodic tom patterns. He had this way of throwing in spontaneous hits and crashes that catch your ears off guard, thus keeping you, the listener, on your toes. One of my favorite examples of his "groove meets melodic tom patterns" can be heard on the track "Hollow Place" off of Sometimes Things Just Disappear.
Producer Brian McTernan was a great fit for the band, a recording engineer who has captured some heavy recordings of bands that aren't that different from Polar Bear Club. Look at Thrice, for example--a band that McTernan worked with early on (where he arguably recorded their two best records). Both bands have guitarists who alternate between dissonant and poppy guitar riffs, and vocalist who alternate between clearly delivered pop harmonies and gritty vocal lines. Much of the difficulty in recoding a punk record is making sure that all of the instruments sound huge. But, when everything is "turned up to 11," then nothing sounds big or small. McTernan seems to have a knack for figuring out these sonic Rubik cubes. Part of his magic seems to be making sure that parts develop, and that all the band members aren't playing at once. I'd love to see the process, which I can only guess at. I've heard a variety of bands mention that McTernan actively contributes to structuring the songs he's going to record--often inspiring the musicians to move in directions that they otherwise wouldn't have. The song structures on Clash Battle Guilt Pride definitely differ from previous Polar Bear Club records, in an interesting way. The band safely retains their identity, however.
On Clash Battle Guilt Pride singer Jimmy Start’s really delivers with his introspective lyrics and vocal performance. His influences push through in the way that influences should--a hat nod, and not a direct rip off from another group. Perhaps he touches on this on the albums second track "Killin' It" when he sings "we burned and buried the sounds that carried all the weight." While there are heavy references on this record, there are just as many mellower ones. You can definitely hear the singer pay his respects to Jimmy Eat World's record Clarity with his harmonic "woah-oh-ohs." You'll hear references from every band member, in fact. The opening track off Clash Battle Guilt Pride, "Pawner," has a Weakerthan's guitar vibe, from way back in their Left And Leaving days. I couldn't help but think of the tune "My apologies" by The Get Up Kids when I was listening to Polar Bear Club's "Life Between The Lines." I don't think any of this was by accident.
The first 6 tracks on Clash Battle Guilt Pride hit me where it counts. I love the way the opening track leads into the driving second track, they take it down a notch for the third tune, and then dig into my favorite section--the tunes "Kneel On Nails," and the interestingly structured "My Best Days."
If you didn't grow up in the EpiFat scene, this band and record may not be your cup of tea. I wonder, in fact, if Polar Bear Club wouldn't just sound like another generic pop-punk group. It's not, I assure you. I think a lot of us on the West Coast first discovered their general sound through the Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chord labels. And many of us later broadened our horizons with some of the East Coast's great bands (a lot of whom came from DC and Polar Bear Club's home state of New Jersey).
When I put on Clash Battle Guilt Pride, it makes me miss the summer of 2002, back in Santa Cruz, when a bandmate first introduced me to the Lifetime records Hello Bastards and Jersey's Best Dancers (the group had been broken up for a long time at that point). It makes me remember hearing a pre-released promo copy of The Weakerthan's Left And Leaving that my friend acquired back in 2000. It evokes images of seeing Jimmy Eat World opening for Fact To Face at The Palace in Los Angeles. I saw Jimmy Eat World play the Warped Tour that same summer to about 10 kids, some of whom left half way throughout the set. Back then, you had four options for emo--Sunny Day Real Estate (the Godfathers of this sound), Jimmy Eat World, The Get Up Kids, and At The Drive In. It makes me think of my college dormitory at UC Santa Cruz, when I first downloaded some Hot Water Music tracks off their records No Division and A Flight And A Crash. I had to go right down to Streetlight Records in order to buy the full albums. A few years later I remember sleeping on my friend Tim's floor for an entire year while I was trying to save money to support a drumming habit. One day he was giving me a lift somewhere in his minivan and showed me the Thrice track "In Years To Come"--piano intro, and all. I had never heard of the group before when he played it for me. I liked the track so much that I kept asking him to play it over and over again in the car. He finally just ejected the disc, and gave me the copy we were listening to.
Those days are long gone, and boy do I miss them, but Clash Battle Guilt Pride wakes up these memories for me.Clash Battle Guilt Pride