This is a review of "s/t" recorded by Polaris. The review was written by Paul Elam in 2006.
I wish I could start this review in the same way Polaris start this eponymous album of theirs. Because then you’d understand exactly what it was I was setting out to do. As an opening shots go, The Moment I Said, ‘Yes’ is an expertly aimed scattergun of an instrumental, full of momentum and a refreshing lack of false pretences. You’d have to dilute that last statement a fraction to be entirely accurate, but it’s also a very fair representation of Polaris as a band. They have always been slightly out of reach, achingly underground, and discussed in awed tones by those that have encountered their music. Indeed, my first experience was little more than catching the dog ends of their set closer some months ago, and aroused enough curiosity in me to acquire Kissing (now included on this very album).
And Kissing is something quite special (stop sniggering at the back now). It’s (ahem) the sound of being happily drunk and in love whilst walking home from a day in the city park on a summer day as the sun sets. It’s the closest I’ve ever heard a band come to expressing emotion without resort to cliché or sentiment. I’m almost physically addicted to it now, so much so that I’ve ruined this review’s chronological order already and missed out tracks two and three…
…which are Sky Blue Pink and Out Of Harm’s Way. Sky Blue Pink sets a more fractured tone for the band. It’s an unsettling seven minutes to be honest, with the jumping sections never allowing for any level of comfort to take hold. But then these contrary fuckers will drop their guard and pluck at your heartstrings for five seconds with a beautifully realised vocal harmony or guitar chime. Many bands try this kind of thing and (quite rightly) fall flat on their face before running home in embarrassment. The difference is that Polaris are obviously not forcing the issue, they’re just doing what comes naturally.
Out Of Harm’s Way is another slow burner (for a track to drop below 7 minutes on this album is rare) that again mixes angst and beauty to good effect. However, in this instance the music evolves as it carries the listener along with it… and now the Polaris approach is becoming clear: they do indeed take on some of the post rock sensibilities that they have often been lumbered with, but this is not the post rock dynamics of volume and aggression that a thousand and one Mogwai copyists wheel out year upon year. The dynamic here is one of emotion and expression controlled by a band that knows exactly what they’re doing. This is not to say that their difference in approach to those dependent upon volume lacks the bite of (post) rock before it adopted the much-maligned prefix. It doesn’t. There’s just a hell of a lot more substance to the way these guys do it.
If Kissing was the sound of contentment after a perfect day in the sun, Conquering Small Spaces (the album’s second instrumental) is the sound of the joy of the day itself. As with the rest of the album so far the band are too hardworking to stay in the same place for the whole of the track, but it is by far the most consistently optimistic outing here. If this were what your alarm clock played to wake you up of a morning, you’d be smiling all day. Though evidently not the lads from Polaris, as the next track descends in to a darker place entirely.
Things You Don’t Know is the home of the aforementioned menace, and sees a more conventional quiet to loud, loud to quiet approach… but we never quite stray from this single feeling throughout the song. As discussed earlier, this isn’t the approach that has done so well for the band up to this point, and unfortunately it shows. The quality is still extremely high, but when a band has shown how good it really can be you can’t help but be a little disappointed. The outro does its level best to claw back former glories, but the momentum has been lost.
Without An Out is essentially a song of two halves, and rises up above Things You Don’t Know by virtue of the second half, which is an instrumental closing to the album that makes perfect sense in finishing what The Moment I Said, ‘Yes’ started off. It flows, skips and changes exactly as we’ve come to expect and has just the right touch of the epic goodbye (although being who they are, Polaris never allow it to get over the top). The first half? Another minor disappointment I’m afraid. It’s an improvement on the preceding track, but the verse-chorus-verse-chorus approach just doesn’t wash after you’ve heard what they really are capable of… which luckily is demonstrated by the second half.
In conclusion? I was very tempted not to mention them at all, but the last one and a half tracks can’t help but tarnish the album as a whole (we’d be talking full marks without them). Which is a shame, as the overriding majority of the material on display here is sickeningly good. Polaris should be taught in schools. Polaris should run for government. At the very least if you see them in the street go up and thank them. Songs like Kissing and bands like this show up a lot of today’s pretenders for the worthless shit that they are. Go buy