Thursday, June 3, 2010

So Long, Lonesome - Poler Bear

So Long, Lonesome

Poler Bear

SCQ Rating: 74%

The hungriest of artists evolve with the seasons, finding solace and inspiration from each turning breeze and landscape. Hand in hand with this sensitivity for change, the hungriest of artists are also prolific, bookending their trials with varied, sonic reminders. For Josh Robinson, the Saskatoon native who records as Poler Bear, one can’t help but suggest that these past several months have offered no shortage of inspiration. Released just this past February, Se Denouer communicated winter through grays; its ambience like muffled traffic, its sentiments echoed through shut-in history and film-snippets. A few months on, Poler Bear’s sophomore arrives as foretold and, sleeved in hand-stitched, original art glory, So Long, Lonesome embraces the bounty of spring.

Whereas Se Denouer took warm melodies and froze them in still-life patterns of guitar, So Long, Lonesome allows Robinson’s guitar melodies to unfurl from their rigid confines and blossom as they like. Part of this thaw can be heard in Poler Bear’s new emphasis on piano, which deepens the resonance of ‘Capucine’’s guitar rumination and twinkles like a mist over ‘Dents & Cracks’. The greater implication of a glacier-sized melt is felt in how So Long, Lonesome dwarfs its predecessor, running nearly eighty-minutes with the bonus track included. Of Poler Bear’s epic tracks (five of which breaking the ten-minute mark), ‘Mountains Like Diaphragms’ best balances his old melancholy and newfound love for longform mood pieces, tying found-sound television chatter and mournful vocals to some of the sophomore’s most minimal soundscapes. If the first three minutes of ‘The Howling Heart Is the Giant’ sounds familiar, Robinson proves himself capable of manning such mammoth arrangements by walking his pretty guitar-figure into a heavy fog that eventually rewrites the melody. It's easily one of Robinson's finest accomplishment yet.

For a record packed with such elegant nuances, it’s a shame that many are used to score the conversations of children. While I’m sure So Long, Lonesome carries a prevalence of kid’s talk with purpose – perhaps Robinson recently became a father, or maybe these songs were written in longing for the simplicities of childhood - the frequency becomes a burden on this listener. The daydream-approved ‘Capucine’ may relegate these children to a distant choral but the pretty, rain-drenched piano of ‘Fear & Trembling’ falls prey to roughly recorded snippets of an incoherent child, whining and laughing, that sour the song’s mood. By the time we get to fifth track ‘Geru Fouy’, a tremendous exercise in near-staccato guitar stutters and harmonics, we’ve already been subjected to about eighteen-minutes of fade-in-fade-out toddler-talk. And yes, ‘Geru Fouy’ continues that trend with what sounds like a Kindergarden linguistics class, their unsteady voices registering high in the mix. As with Se Denouer, these songs hint at emotional secrets beneath the sweet sorrow but as surely as Robinson’s songs invite, the constant influx of children repels focused listening.

That one glaring issue aside, this follow-up deserves focus on the strides Robinson is pacing in so short a time. While I compared Poler Bear’s former record to an early Constellation release, So Long, Lonesome sounds more akin to Temporary Residence’s roster and, to put plainly, a lo-fi Fridge album. That’s a compliment as far as I’m concerned; one earned by the dreamier tones that give colour to ‘I Call Ye Cabin Neighbors’, and the instrumental whole of ‘Geru Fouy’. Aspects of Poler Bear’s more concise material remain audible (take the thin acoustics of ‘Our Eyelids’ and the title track) but So Long Lonesome thrives when taking that half-step closer to post-rock’s romantic centre.

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