17 Sep 2019

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Polaroids of Polarbears - EP Review: Polaroids of Polarbears

13 Mar 2019 // A review by Peter-James Dries

In my middle years, those between the dawn of my consciousness and now, I spent a lot of time equal parts obsessed and jealous of and with Palmerston North’s prodigious Dan Ashcroft (Crackpot Theory, The Rock Shop), even before I knew him as a human. Back when he was just a faint drumming noise across my friend’s paddock on rare windless Oroua Downs nights, and I wondered why my mum hadn't bought me a drumkit.

Times have changed, and Ashcroft’s moved on to more serious endeavours now it seems and is soon to be relegated into the realm of myth and legend. So too should I move on.

Fortuitous it may be that as the wave of awe surrounding “the Croft” (as no one calls him) ebbs I discovered Feilding’s Churlington, who came from relative obscurity to dominate my Facebook newsfeed in an internet minute. From there sprung Feildings Best Dancers, a dirty, raw and resonating two-piece offshoot born in Churlington’s downtime. And in an act of seemly exponential shrinkage we have solo project Polaroids of Polarbears. The common denominator, one man, Dan Brown, the new target of my obsession and jealousy.

Where, compared to Churlington’s calculated layering, progression, and attention to detail, Feildings Best Dancers songs were reactionary moments of fleeting punk wall-of-sound. Polaroids of Polarbears by comparison is more reflective than both previous bands, as solo efforts tend to be. Love, loss, and looking around; the sonnet, the ode, and the elegy. A mix of Churlington, FBD, and Datewiththeknife. A balancing act between soft and heavy. Creation and destruction.

I only listened to the first self-titled Polarbears of Polarbears recently, though it was already five years old at the time, some of the tracks even older. It was an alt-rock masterpiece twenty years out of season. The back-to-back bear Fury and Marvellous Aromartics Ravage Everyone Everywhere blew my horrid little mind. Jumping from layers of flowing picked guitar lines into unexpected tsunamis of distortion in a beat, it has the ability to break your heart then throw your body against a wall.

Here the hate awe began.

I heard about the new album, Polaroids of Polarbears, a few weeks ago. I got a link from an excited Dan (there’s no journalistic integrity if you’re not a journalist). Then I got another link from muzic.net.nz with an assignment to write my ramblings. Then the local Palmy radio station Radio Control ranked the lead single in the top ten every day. I finally listened to it today.

Just like the first self-titled, I find all of these nostalgic feels in Polaroids of Polarbears. A familiarity, and a longing for a simpler time. It’s like the album is an artefact of an alternate universe’s 90's. One where Kurt survived, and the Pixies escaped their peg hole of cult obscurity and garnered a wider listenership. It’s like a soundtrack to an alternative Dawson’s Creek. One that was actually good.

Like a sitcom’s montage opening, We choose to Sink Happily builds you up, amps you up, just enough to bring you down with I Hide. The whole trip is an emotional rollercoaster, with twists, turns, and parallel side plots. The playground of a self-destructive emotional masochist.

There are earworms and tearjerks a plenty, but Brown Boxes, the progressive six minute album closer is the real heart and body breaker of this album. You’re lulled into comfort by the soft middle section, which twists about, helixing, like it’s about to fade. Like it’s starting to rain. Like no one ever loved me. Then the tsunami hits. The drop. The distortion. The emotional payoff. The people on the bus look at you, and you realise they can hear you. You have the volume on full. They don’t notice the tears. They’ve seen a lot weirder in Wellington.

It’s not just the nostalgia. There’s a lot of different feels here. All the shades of sadness. Like lost pieces of the Cure kept in a wicker basket with snippings of Elliot Smith on a good day. What it sounds like to be standing dripping skinless on stage, holding your visceral words up for scrutiny, and the inherent vulnerability in the act of showing the outside world what you feel internally.

Yet, at the same time, there’s this brightness to it. This kind of optimism, albeit tinged blue with melancholia and zopiclone. We choose to Sink Happily. Dreamy, yet dark. These are anthems to anxiety.

Maybe that’s why it seems so familiar. This is the music I wanted to make, that I tried to make, that I would have made if my early musical influences weren’t the stylistically basic Marilyn Manson, and the unattainable complex Tool.

A younger me would choose to stew and dwell in contempt of Brown’s ability and vow to give up guitar for good. Now I no longer play, I’m finally in a place where I can just sit back and enjoy. Live vicariously through this stylistic success, this perfection of my idea of how life’s soundtrack should sound.

And as the rain sets in, and I wake in the clouds atop this Brooklyn hill, I do.

Polaroids of Polarbears will release soon.

10 out of 5.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )

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