12 Aug 2020
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Polaroids of Polarbears - Album Review: Breathe In

01 Mar 2020 // A review by Tom Ashman

The newest release from DIY artist extraordinaire Daniel Brown AKA Polaroids of Polarbears is essential listening for any fans of lo-fi and noise rock. The ten track album Breathe In swirls through reverb drenched peaks and troughs like a tumultuous sonic ocean of expression emanating from an unassuming shed in Feilding.

Polaroids of Polarbears manages to capture something essential about the DIY music genre. That is a certain sound of free creativity. There is something of the punk rock attitude ingrained in the music, the sounds act as a conduit for the human condition and an expression of feeling. It is a bold statement to prioritise freedom of creative choices in modern music. So often the prevailing approach in rock tends to be a carefully curated affectation or allusion to some fantasy, perhaps this has its place; but when an artist shows an intense creative drive and manages to pull off realising a personal vision it always makes for interesting listening.

The track titles themselves tell us much about the vibe of the album. The Moon Knows of My Sharp Tongue and Paper Tigers Roar at Paper Planes are particular examples of the pleasing and witty names which add a lot to the stories told in the music. The art of naming songs is often overlooked, but it can have a huge influence on the initial seedbed of imagery in the listeners mind. It seems to be a theme in particularly creative bands such as the Pixies and Modest Mouse and indeed Polaroids of Polarbears to utilise every part of the album for maximum expression of a theme; title tracks, album art, lyrics and of course the music itself.

The album opens to washes of dreamlike guitar with the lyrics tumbling out, flowing like water from a burst reservoir. There is a kind of movement inherent in the opening track Hakihea 31 2019 reminiscent of a half remembered childhood road trip or flying above the clouds on a long haul.

The geographically titled Pohangina Valley to Ashhurst Domain pulses with splashy ride cymbal and haunting guitar lead-lines. The lyrics have an ethereal quality with certain words ‘fantasise’ popping through the mix and building into the patchwork imagery.

Jangly surf guitar conjures up Californian beaches and idealised 1950's melodrama for There’s a Haze In The Sky but subtly shifts its rhythm and tone to a crescendo of smashing chords where the drums, guitars and vocals swamp each other and metamorphose into one entity beating on the eardrums like waves on the sand. This is a common theme throughout the album, the intertwining of sounds into a single mass.

The previously mentioned The Moon Knows of My Sharp Tongue starts with spoken words almost like a Tannoy system announcement the keys/guitar ticking along in the background before erupting into a mighty and cloud of sound. One of Polaroids of Polarbears many strengths is the cohesiveness of the sound, the instruments layer up and blend into interesting soundscapes without falling into musical cliches of what a guitar or a keyboard or drums “should” necessarily sound like. The vocals are used as an instrument in their own right, the sound of the words sculpting into the mix and shaping the music rather than just being words floating on top.

We Sell Plastic People on Sundays notable drumming really holds the song together, and adds an almost EDM element into the mix, the guitar sits as a dense wall of sound on top like the head on a pint of Guinness. The repeated mantra of the title furthers the dance music comparison. It’s a song that a crowd could really get lost in especially in a live setting.

The wonderfully titled Paper Tigers Roar at Paper Planes has the high energy bursting feel of Joy Division with Polaroids of Polarbears own spin. Throughout the album (but especially in this song) the guitar lead-lines really add a huge amount in a very subtle way. The melodies of keys, guitars and vocals link together intricately while masterfully avoiding sounding messy.

Climb Down takes a slight departure production wise, with a more industrial styled drum sound. The middle interlude before the all the instruments kick back in really makes this track stand out, there is a certain desperation in its delivery that is extremely powerful. The chord changes in this track are particularly well executed, and all round the song really sits well in the album.

The interesting interplay between the laid back drumming and the tight guitars and vocals make Trash and No Star a track of interesting contradictions yet impactful strength. Latterly the as the two forces of rhythm and melody draw closer together the song lifts off before coming to its conclusion. All the tracks on Breathe In are refreshingly short and to the point. There is no self-indulgence just well-made, concise music with a punch that would be in danger of being lost if the songs were to drag on.

It is testament to Polaroids of Polarbears song writing that the listener remains interested and engaged at all times. There is enough change to keep the attention but the themes are strong enough that the songs and album as a whole retains is cohesion. Without trying to force a comparison the album definitely has a feel of Deafheaven’s Sunbather about it, although is certainly not derivative of any one thing.

The synth intro to You Said Let's Panic has in instant Placebo feel to it and is a good example of the engaging shifts in sound that keep things interesting. The song proceeds in a creeping pace slowly building layers of vocals until everything drops back for a couple of bars, drawing up tension for the release of the wall of noise to once again come crashing down. This is a great tool for building a multi-layered and exciting moment in a track.

Closing off the album the lilting and swaying When You’re Falling Awahuri Road once again changes direction ever so slightly with a more ballad style piano line evoking nostalgic scenes before zeroing in on the splashing, full-spectrum sound that is a Polaroids of Polarbears trademark. An interesting and heartfelt finisher to the album with a taste of all that has come before it.

So, there it is, ten tracks of pure lo-fi, noise-pop, ambient, shoe-gaze. Although, as is entirely fitting for a project like this it very much defies genre classification, instead alluding to several hallmarks of several genres with tastes of other things thrown in. This is a lean and well written record that hits home with its power and takes the listener on a journey through the experimental and artistic sounds dreamt up by Daniel Brown.

The creative freedom shines through in Breathe In. The sound is refreshingly liberated from convention as is the song writing, rarely following the verse/chorus archetype and instead striking out on its own, answerable to no one but the creator himself. A thoroughly engaging and inspiring album in all its facets. It is wonderfully refreshing to see the creative artistry front and centre. Hopefully Polaroids of Polarbears rallying call of ‘DIY or Die’ will serve as a kicking off point for others who have a creative vision and the drive to make it happen.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )
 

About Polaroids of Polarbears

Polaroids of Polarbears is D.Brown in his shed, in Feilding with Guitars and Drums. Solo project low fi and cheaply made with a smile




Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Polaroids of Polarbears

Releases

Breathe In
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Polaroids of Polarbears
Year: 2019
Type: EP
Polaroids of Polarbears
Year: 2014
Type: EP

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