Following ‘Clash Battle Guilt Pride’ was always going to be difficult. That being said, you could say the same about following ‘Chasing Hamburg’ and ‘Sometimes Things Just Disappear’. On each occasion Polar Bear Club managed to release an album that saw them progress and up their game. It was a trend that was bound to end eventually, and does with their fourth full-length ‘Death Chorus’.
The New York based bands latest release is by no means a bad or even average album, but by Polar Bear Club’s normally incredibly high standards it’s definitely an underachiever. It seems to lack the bite and drive that fuelled their past releases and made them so intriguing. That trademark enery also set the band apart from the masses striving for a similar sound and level of success and without it there isn’t as much by which to distinguish them. Thankfully, ‘Death Chorus’ is still insatiably catchy and dynamic but it does lack that ‘something’ that made their past material so appealing, and does so by ditching lead vocalist Jimmy Stadt’s trademark rough vocals for a cleaner and more melodic delivery more Bayside than Hot Water Music. It works perfectly on the less intense and stripped back tracks like the rousing ‘Siouxsie Jeanne’ but for the most part it fails to ignite the band’s music the way the earlier vocals did. Sure, Stadt is still great, but he isn’t anywhere near as engaging as he was on the bands last few studio albums. The instrumentals are still fast and energetic, despite being toned down a little to suit the new sound but there’s still plenty of excellent riffs and technical percussion to bring variety to tracks and keep things interesting. Fourth track ‘For Show’ surges along on bouncy drums and rarely slows down, containing probably the albums best chorus, with Stadt’s rising ‘Whoa oh oh’ sounding far less cheesy than you’d expect. These types of rallying punk rock anthems are plentiful on ‘Death Chorus’ and there’s still an obvious talent for song writing, although it isn’t as adventurous as it was earlier in the bands discography. Upbeat single ‘WLWYCD’ shows how the new vocal style sits perfectly over toned down instrumentals, before bursting into life for another anthemic chorus more suited to Stadt’s new approach. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but Polar Bear Club still pull it off very well.
The opening and closing songs on ‘Death Chorus’ are where the album really shines, being the two strongest tracks of the ten on show. ‘Blood Balloon’ is instantly promising, despite sounding a little like Yellowcard and its chorus is one of the alums best moments, with Stadt singing ‘hold me down for now’ over pounding instrumentals, a formula that makes the track incredibly memorable and most reminiscent of the bands earlier work. In contrast, closer ‘Upstate Mosquito’ is a more delicate affair, focusing more on the lyrical aspect of the band’s music, especially for the first few minutes before it explodes into a fuelled punk rock dynamic evocative of say, New Found Glory. There’s no real post-hardcore influence on ‘Death Chorus’ and it’s the missing piece of a jigsaw which still fits and works, but isn’t as interesting as it would be otherwise.
It’s very easy to slate the bands change in sound, but it’s much harder to admire them for it initially. If anything, ‘Death Chorus’ is a grower. Once you accept the change and embrace it then it opens up and sounds much better. Given time to really listen to the songs and learn them it becomes apparent just how well written and catchy they still are, despite not always meeting the heights of Polar Bear Club’s earlier works. The album sees a lot of differences arise, but there’s still plenty that makes Polar Bear Club who they are, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here after building a relatively strong foundation for their new style throughout ‘Death Chorus’.
Rating – 6.5/10
Listen to: Blood Balloon / Chicago Spring / Upstate Mosquito