Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Winter Chords EP - Poler Bear

Winter Chords EP

Poler Bear
Basementree Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

Hushed but loaded with emotion, Poler Bear’s output has all the merits of a good secret. Creeping upon words and frozen atmospheres barely uttered, songwriter Josh Robinson continues his quiet evolution on Winter Chords EP, a delectable offering that, in typically restrained fashion, seeks not to raise too much fuss about his acoustic laments.

Which is too bad; I mean, there’s something about Poler Bear’s prolific streak – three releases in two years – that strike the most underground, DIY-styled nerve Canada has to offer, and Robinson belongs on that bare-boned folk fringe. Besides stepping back from So Long Lonesome’s heightened field-recording approach, Winter Chords EP represents an anchoring of Poler Bear’s approach: humble acoustic lilts, swashes of ambience and Robinson’s intimate vocals packaged in lovely hand-made sleeves. Sometimes he’s so close to the microphone you can hear every inhalation; other times his timbre becomes a muted hum as if he ditched the mic altogether. These five examples of earnest songwriting maneuver between quaint and powerful, with ‘The Nests In the Corn Crib’ and ‘The Stones That Settled In Our Stomachs’ stealing the EP's poignant core.

Running shy of eighteen minutes in length, Winter Chords might’ve benefitted from a gentle sprawl, meaning some more time to let these tracks air out and slowly encompass listeners. As always, it’s Poler Bear’s ambience that still grabs me the most, intoning itself like streetcar brakes half a kilometer away. Some exploration of that knack for sound-environments could’ve easily provided the plateau for some expansive songwriting but, yeah, I’m being greedy. It’s one thing to make Saskatoon sound like the loneliest place on earth but another to make listeners want to go visit. At Winter Chords’ tender best, Robinson achieves that feat.

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