tue 09/08/2022

CD: Polar Bear – Same As You | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Polar Bear – Same As You

CD: Polar Bear – Same As You

Post-jazzers add ambient dub to a spacey, love-infused mix

Seb Rochford's big cloud of love

Polar Bear have been re-shaping the musical landscape (the experimental jazz end of it, at least), since 2004, and after a few years’ hibernation after 2010, the creature is back in rude health, this year’s album hot on the heels of last year’s Mercury-nominated In Each And Every One. Identifying the group’s generic mix feels increasingly daunting, as new elements are constantly layered onto the existing work.

Leafcutter John’s electronica have always been an important part of the mix; here, their role is a more subdued, but crucial ambient underpinning, as rattly dub beats do more of the rhythmic work.

There’s singing. That’s the first thing that regular fans will notice. The short opening track (and the collection’s outlier), “Life, Love and Light”, has a kind of mantra about the power of love, written and sung at drummer/leader Seb Rochford’s invitation by Asar Mikael, from Jamaican cultural institution The Light Shop. There’s more singing, unexpectedly from Rochford himself (with a choir of friends), on “Don’t Let the Feeling Go”, perhaps the most overtly trippy track. The instantly recognisable, spiky twin horns of Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart (which still, despite everything else going on, anchor the music in jazz) turn up straight away on the second track, “We Feel the Echoes”. In keeping with the album’s loving theme, they’re less belligerent here than on previous albums, but they gyrate, questioning, fascinating, throughout.

The album was mixed by Rochford and LA-based producer Ken Barrientos in the Mojave Desert, and a potent sense of space, both physical and psychological, permeates the album. Listen on a hifi and you’ll notice sounds drifting slowly from side to side, like mysterious lights in a black, empty desert sky. I wasn’t convinced by Mikael’s lyrics at first, finding the sentiments – though admirable – slightly generic, and their placement on the first track a little political, even didactic. Listen to the album end-to-end, though, and it all begins to make sense. Think of it as a kind of cosmic love-in, and enjoy.

  • Polar Bear begins a UK Tour at Village Underground on 8 April

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