Review Summary: Are you feeling happiness? Cause I'm sure life's about being pissed.
Your eponymous, five-song experimental punk rock demo just broke through to a more mainstream crowd, and you just got signed to a recognizable hardcore label. You want to sound like a fresh mix of Hot Water Music and Alexisonfire, toeing the line of heartland punk and post-hardcore. What do you do?
Polar Bear Club's first official offering is a perfect amalgamation of styles, influences, and tones, packaged with a unique flair and deliverance in the form of five perfectly distinct tracks. These songs are not cozy or comfortable. They do not represent what you usually feel when you think of punk rock or alternative music.
PBC ditch conventional song structures, palatable time signatures, and power chords; instead embracing jazzy 7th chords, interwoven with intervalic vocal melodies that are sang half-clean and half-gruff, often at the flick of a switch. These new conventions are not meaningless, and are all performed and presented with taste and class thanks to the tight rhythm section of Emmett Menke and Greg Odom.
Opening track "Election Day" focuses on getting your attention with the sound of plugging in an overdriven guitar, and keeping that attention with the constant switching of parts, taking you from A, to B, to C, to D, and finally back to A for a callback ending. This patten continues through "Resent and Resistance" and to "His Devotee", which is the only track that starts with a clean and intimate, softly-sung couple of verses before the explosive rest of the band can be held back no longer, as they chime in for an monstrous ending.
"Parked In the Parking Lot of Your Heart" is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. The track starts in bombastic fashion, slapping the listener with 3 hits of a 7th chord, interjected with a delay-ridden lead line, and singer Jimmy Stadt snarling: "The clock struck twelve / Two hours ago / Time flies when you're / Stuck in last year". The song tumbles onwards with a couple galloping, syncopatic verses before the song lands on a groovy outro in 5/4, where Stadt encourages you to sing along: "Are you feeling happiness? / Cause I'm sure life's about being pissed".
Perhaps no song is more fit for a closer than the anthemic "Most Miserable Life", which would become a staple of the band's live set until their dissolution in 2013. "Most Miserable Life" opens with a solitary gnarly guitar chord, followed by Stadt growling the most repeatable words on the album: "We ***ed our ears, we ***ed our throats / Screaming for the sake of what we love most". The rest of the song juxtaposes this chorus with a couple of fast-paced verses inspired by hardcore music.
The Redder The Better kicked off an incredible career of a band that died too young. Polar Bear Club truly had found a niche in the genre between their interesting vocal lines, monster guitar tones, unorthodox song structures, and complex rhythm section. Even if the band never regroups, we will always have this record as a lasting memory of their underappreciated greatness.