Sunday, March 21, 2010

Se Denouer - Poler Bear

Se Denouer

Poler Bear
Self Released.

SCQ Rating: 78%

As far as I’m concerned, any indie record store worth its salt has a local music section full of consigned releases muddled in all their canvas-sleeved, tape-decked glory. From Toronto’s hangouts to Ottawa’s, such creative packaging and ancient formats fail to attract the reasonable quotient of music-nerds I know exist, and so the label hierarchy will heedlessly continue in spite of albums like Poler Bear’s Se Denouer, one of the quietly brilliant self-released gambles worth your hard-earned dollar.

Unfolding with the ominous grace of a Constellation recording, Poler Bear’s Josh Robinson bypasses the urge to pace his starry compositions into a building uproar typical of Godspeed! You Black Emperor or Thee Silver Mt. Zion. Instead Robinson occupies these eight songs like a wise spectre, haunting the arrangements with guitar tones that simmer under glum chords or vocals that register as muted and gray as the instruments themselves. ‘Catapult… They Call Your Name’ is a light dirge of both, the voice and guitar creating a nearly inseparable hum of post-rock serenity, while ‘Again With the Sea’ drifts a two-chord sentiment like a sea-shanty on the edge of the world. When Robinson isn’t singing, he often includes snippets of dialogue from media or historical recordings; a method of contextualizing instrumental work that, in 2010, sounds almost old-school. In the case of ‘Flying Paper Airplanes’, the repeated clip of a World War II speech becomes a mild agitation that nearly distracts from the track’s mood. On ‘Atticus the Brave’, however, the inclusion of film/movie dialogue seems ideal not only because it’s one of Se Denouer’s most moving tracks but because the segment, which mentions a woman who has caused some terrible wrong without breaking any law, adequately establishes a lead for the album’s quiet, subsequent heartbreak.

Sound depressing? It’s actually rather uplifting, which suggests an impressive emotional scope given its minimal production, as Robinson always offsets a song’s glum character with some optimistic light… even if that optimism seems hopelessly tragic. The simple yet timeless chords of ‘Adieu Great Captain’, like many of these compositions, peer beneath the clutter and bombast we seek in bands like Explosions In the Sky and Sigur Ros to boast the skeletal proofs of what keep this genre so promising. Stretching violins into cabin-warm drones, title track ‘Se Denouer’ beats the heart of this disc, evoking not only the roots of post-rock’s effectiveness, but the raw moments in life that inspire it.

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