01. See the Wind
02. Living Saints
04. Take Me to the Town
05. Drifting Thing
06. Light of Local Eyes
07. Song to Persona
08. Old Fisher Burial Ground
09. One Hit Back
10. Chasing Hamburg
2009 Bridge Nine Records
After two stellar releases to lead off their discography, Rochester, NY's Polar Bear Club kicked it up a notch and joined the Bridge 9 roster. With a sound best described as pop-punk meets hardcore meets Hot Water Music worship, the band's move to a label with an increasingly catchy roster (Crime in Stereo, New Found Glory, Strike Anywhere, et al) wasn't too much of a surprise. And in that sense, Chasing Hamburg feels not only like a big step into the spotlight for Polar Bear Club, but also a bigger hint of the things to come for the Boston hardcore label.
Listeners should expect a bit of a departure from a lot of the songwriting leanings of The Redder, The Better, and Something Things Just Disappear. The record is still very much recognizable as one of the band's own, a feeling best attributed to vocalist Jimmy Stadt's distinctive melodic yell and an abundance cleverly interleaved guitar leads, but the individual tracks tend to venture down a shorter, poppier path. It's almost like someone took their previous records and injected a significant dose of influence from pop punk/rock favorites Saves the Day, Jimmy Eat World, and The Get Up Kids. Their intensity and general punk/hardcore mentality has noticeably subsided, but Chasing Hamburg still manages to succeed with that same honest feel that made the three aforementioned bands so nostalgic for many.
Out of the gates is a bit of a misleading opener, "See the Wind," a track whose main riff has more in common with Helmet than any pop-punk band. Regardless of how it fits into the record, it's a clear standout. "Living Saints" swings the needle back to the poppy side with a more energetic approach, complete with a kick drum and gang vocals midsection that has no trouble lodging itself in one's head for extended periods of time. "Boxes" excels by venturing into territory that is a bit darker and moodier than anything else Polar Bear Club has released. And its main lyric, "You don't have to be an asshole to be an artist," is a nice touch.
"Drifting Thing," however, opens wide the door for the strong pop mentality that dominates many of the remaining tracks. Based around a simple muted guitar line, some jangly percussion touches, and lyrics about being "in love at seventeen," the track emanates images high school girls swooning just a little too much to be fully embraced -- at least for those of us that are getting along in our years. "Light of Local Eyes" sports a massively catchy pop-rock chorus that one might expect out of a Third Eye Blind track. And though the closing title track strives to end the record on an introspective note with the choir-like repetition of "There's no more room for love," I still can't figure out if it's successful or simply a little pseudo-poetic for my liking.
That's the point with Chasing Hamburg; it will take a little while to sink in. It doesn't have the anthemic qualities of The Redder, The Better and it doesn't have the post-hardcore songwriting tricks of Sometimes Things Just Disappear, but that's a good thing. The pop qualities outlined above aren't necessarily negative -- they are simply different than what was expected, and I'd be lying if I said that I've spent enough time with this record to let it all register. With the exception of a few outwardly poppy moments, it's reasonable for this record to mesh with listeners in much the same way that Crime in Stereo's ...Is Dead did. It's definitely a progression for Polar Bear Club, and although the record may position the band just a little outside of the fan base they started out with, its ability to try something new while still holding onto some punk/hardcore roots will definitely snag some attention.
Bottom Line: Although Polar Bear Club has always been a "poppy" band, Chasing Hamburg presses further into that territory in a manner that is reminiscent of the late '90s era of bands like Saves the Day, Jimmy Eat World, and The Get Up Kids. A couple heavily pop-oriented moments may give listeners pause when pondering the record's rank amongst the band's discography, however, there's still a lot to enjoy about this record.