Polar Bear Club - Chasing Hamburg (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Polar Bear Club

Chasing Hamburg (2009)

Bridge Nine

I heard Chasing Hamburg on my last day of high school, two or so months ago. In other words: Before you. It was a goosebump-inducing, cinematic listen that concluded the proverbial chapter of my awkward teen years -- a chapter that included Polar Bear Club from the moment The Redder, The Better bellowed from my top-floor bedroom. Not being able to listen to their Bridge 9 debut a second time haunted me for the remainder of the two months until now, and after setting the bar to an unreachable magnitude, I was disappointed that it didn't strike me like it did on my initial run through. Though not the "instant" classic that I'm sure a lot of us were expecting, after a few listens to soak up all the subtleties behind the poppy outer crust, Chasing Hamburg proves to be a brilliant and captivating spin.

Drop-tuned opener "See the Wind" may be the heaviest the band has ever gone, but don't let the Bridge 9 sticker fool you -- this is far from a typical, polished, "hardcore" album; the breakdown is sheer post-hardcore perfection with its ringing open-string leads and unconventional start-stop rhythms. Even the guest vocals performed by Have Heart's Pat Flynn sound closer to Chuck Ragan than a melodramatic straight-edge hardcore kid from Boston. The two subsequent tracks, Summer of George's "Living Saints" and "Boxes," are some of the more poppier tracks the band's ever written, but still executed with same minor arppeggios and intricacies that made Sometimes Things Just Disappear so irresistable.

Track five, "Drifting Thing" is where the band starts throwing curveballs. This track is almost only guitar and vocals with a subtle drumbeat about :35 in, a dynamic that the band (who is a dynamic band, at that) has yet to do. It's something Rise Against should have put on The Sufferer and the Witness. And though the melodies and harmonies still owe their tendencies to bands like Small Brown Bike, Polar Bear Club has added some flavor to the notes on their usual scale; "Song to Persona" (a song that includes a guest spot by Marathon's Aaron Scott) has an interesting minor flare, while "Old Fisher Burial Ground" begins with an almost Carlos Santana-esque solo and tone. The latter's chorus recalls some "Bug Parade" moments shifting into progressively catchier sections until the song's end.

Matt Bayles' production is quite different than what was done for Sometimes; the instruments are more panned and less layered; the toms sound less heavy; the record has an overall live feel. In terms of songwriting, some of the drum choices could have been a little better. When I heard the American Football-style clean picking behind the intro solo in "Old Fisher Burial Ground," I really wanted to hear some more ride-oriented percussion like "Instrumental," from their demo. Also, the title track and closer is far from the climactic "Convinced I'm Wrong," but in context with the rest of the songs wraps things up quite nicely.

Chasing Hamburg, my most anticipated record, took some time to really deliver, but you really get out of it with what you put in. And before anyone starts crying for the "bias police," just remember: The biggest fans are the harshest critics. And with catchy and energetic numbers like "One Hit Back," "Light of Local Eyes" and "Living Saints," this record is undeniably one of the best records of the year.