No album emulates the ups and downs encountered in life more than Clash Battle Guilt Pride, Polar Bear Club’s third, and arguably best studio album to date. The band delivers unique profound lyrics, unrestrained chugging of busy guitar work and exemplary drumming, and shoves all of these qualities into a emotive meat grinder, giving us a fantastic result.
Naturally, bands have a tendency to alter their sound during their musical careers. When considering Polar Bear Club’s earlier material, one can draw comparisons from influential punk bands along the lines of Hot Water Music, whose raw and searing sound has laid the foundation for many bands following their musical pilgrimage. However, Polar Bear Club has modified their sound with meticulous finesse, slightly adjusting specific aspects of their songwriting. They have incorporated new structures to their songs and have acquired a less aggressive persona, similar to their last album, Chasing Hamburg. Brian McTernan, the album’s producer, went to great lengths in constructing an album that most mimics the booming, unrefined resonance of Polar Bear Club’s live performances.
The first track, “Pawner,” provides a glimpse into the album’s feel as a whole. Modest guitar riffs lend a sporadic introduction to Jimmy Stadt’s urgent vocals as he makes a powerful plea: “I’ve gotta take my grab at something great.” The song crescendos into a cataclysmic force, the static Polar Bear Club fans have anticipated. Before the listener can even process the sequence of sounds to follow, the album’s second track, “Killin’ It,” trudges on with unbridled force. Stadt refrains with burly tones, all while reaching notes of heights never heard by Polar Bear Club fans before.
Tunes like “Screams in Caves” and “My Best Days” supply the audience with compelling choruses and passionate melodies, while “Life Between the Lines” drops the pressing tempo and lung-punching bass avid Polar Bear Club fans are so accustomed to.
Deep within the album’s core is “I’ll Never Leave New York,” an intermission of sorts, as soft, reverberated guitars break the pattern of the familiar, chugging guitar chords heard in the aforementioned songs. Here, Stadt’s overture to self-discovery and poignant quest for answers is so vividly portrayed.
The torrid “Bottled Wind” follows the same theme, as the quintet ardently lends a song defined by ecstatic emotion and animate energy. The tenth track, “Religion on the Radio” carries a poppy vibe, as upbeat drums and guitar melodies drive the album to a near close. Stadt exclaims, “You’ve got to scream to get your point across,” and this is precisely his goal with Clash Battle Guilt Pride. The song transitions into a ballad, “3-4 Tango.” Stadt portrays a dark, realistic narrative concluding the album on an efficacious note, as the listener tunes out to the echo of guitars that fade in a subtle manner.
Polar Bear Club has done something captivating: it has successfully captured the emotions of the common man, the highs and lows on a scale both small and large. Through Clash Battle Guilt Pride, a genuine effort has rendered the listener empathetic. The band has gained the ability to give the audience something to so passionately relate to — an improbable feat for many other musicians of the genre. For that, many could give Polar Bear Club kudos, with hopes that they “…grab at something great,” whatever that may be.