Polar Bears

SANTA ROSA, California, US
Artist / Band / Musician
Indie / Punk / Soul
Time Capsule

Polar Bears' 'The Future King'

By Sara Bir

Currently I'm working as a retail associate at a fancy-pants cookware store, a job I thoroughly enjoy with two major exceptions: the pay (low) and the music (shit). It's a chain store, and like many chain stores, they broadcast music from preset digital channels. My managers and co-workers, who are all intelligent people with functional senses of humor, bizarrely favor the Adult Contemporary channel, which is not so much a digital radio station as it is a 4-hour mix of the worst pop music offerings of the past 15 years. This means that, when I work an 8-hour shift, we hear two different Matchbox 20 songs two times each--a cruel and malicious fate for a company to foist upon its faithful sales associates. There's also a Coffeehouse Rock channel; the only difference between that and Adult Contemporary is that Coffeehouse Rock includes more songs from Shrek.

It is slowly wearing upon my soul. Mediocre-to-sucky music in small doses is tolerable, but hearing the same 100 crummy songs during the majority of waking hours can turn a person despondent and violent. Cripes, even the customers have been complaining about James Blunt.

This is why Santa Rosa's Polar Bears exist. I was at the end of my rope, my spirit too broken to rally its mistreated music receptors. Then, lo and behold, the fine young men of Polar Bears sent a copy of their newest CD, The Future King, and all became right with the world.

Polar Bears are the furthest thing from maudlin. The band--bassist/vocalist Ben Henning, guitarist/vocalist Matthew Izen, and drummer Shane Goepel--has progressed much during its six-year lifespan; The Future King is a fully-formed work, whereas their 2004 EP, Shorts Are for Warm, was more of a collection of aggressively technical but slyly funky songs that hinted at things to come.

"With Regards from the Doom of Society" opens the album with a determined, menacing guitar riff that sets the tone for all that follows. Polar Bears still break into a dancy beat (nicely evidenced on "A Maker's Regrets" and "A Queen and a Coffin"), but--even better!--they frequently lapse into some truly awesome arty improvisational shit, exploring negative space as much as they do positive space (there's an especially nice bit at the end of "Two Gates"). It's the sort of lovely implosion of sound that made daring, guitar-based bands like Fugazi and Sonic Youth so compelling: you get your hooks, your rock-outs, and your out-there experimentalism all in one expansive, unpredictable dose.

The lyrics are about time travel and the cyclical nature of evil. I can't understand the words as Ben Henning sings, or often screams, them, but the overall theme of the album is cool as all hell. Note that Polar Bears don't just scream; they harmonize and scream. Scream-onize, let's call it, and it's a very dynamic method for chewing the metaphysical fat.

And it sounds good loud. The Future King made me forget Rod Stewart's pathetically limp-dick cover of "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" Hundreds of Rod Stewart songs in the world--some of them great--and the cookware store picks that one. What happened to "Hot Legs"?

But passionate rock music is not good to shop to; it requires too much of a commitment from the listener. If a song is an amazing song, you can't help but cease caring about a $250 Le Creuset 5-quart casserole and start caring about nothing but that song. Rest assured that Polar Bears will not be rocking the cookware store anytime soon.

Find The Future King at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa, or buy it directly from the band at one of their performances: www.myspace.com/plrbrs.
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