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While albums like Major/Minor, Elsie and Suburbia are in talks for many lists for album of the year, there hasn’t been much talk about the most improved band of the year. A serious contender for that award would have to be Polar Bear Club on the back of their third full-length, Clash Battle Guilt Pride.
The album immediately sounds better than anything else the band has released previously. The opening track, “Pawner,” is softer than a lot of their previous work, yet it is also one of their most emotional songs. This is in part due to producer Brian McTernan, who does an astounding job of cleaning up the band’s sound while maintaining the grit in singer Jimmy Stadt’s voice. The soft guitar lines provided by the duo of Chris Browne and Nate Morris contrast with Stadt’s pained howls. That is, up until the climactic end where the entire band comes together and delivers. The way the song segues right into “Killin’ It” without much warning is great. Driven by pounding drums from Tyler Manhurin, weaving lead riffs and Stadt’s hoarse vocals, the song is definitely a banger.
While Stadt’s voice maintains that Vinnie Caruana-esque gruffness throughout the album, he manages to deliver warm moments, just like the I Am the Avalanche frontman. Though they have maintained the hardcore sound that they have always delivered well, the melodies that the band delivers here is what makes this their best record. The sing-along at the end of “Screams in Caves” has a melodic hook that is impossible not to hum with, though few will be able to match Stadt’s grit.
Riff-driven tracks like “Bottled Wind” and “Life Between the Lines” are among the heavier tracks on the album. They also mention to be the catchiest songs present. PBC pulls off contradictions like this frequently, to much delight. Browne and Morris manage to create countless catchy riffs. If you are a fan of thrashing out some air guitar (or real guitar, for that matter), these gentlemen provide you with countless riffs.
The album ends with “3/4 Tango,” which may be the best song in the band’s catalog. The haunting lyrics and Stadt’s wounded delivery are crystal-clear highlights from the album. The rhythm section of Manhurin and Erik “Goose” Henning, who is given his moment in the spotlight with a solo bass riff early in the song, drive the track with their tight groove. As the middle of the song picks up the pace, you can feel your adrenaline pumping as you’re listening. Hell, your head might even bob a few times. Definitely a front-runner for song of the year.
Unfortunately for Polar Bear Club, the albums from some of the bigger bands in the scene will probably overpower the band when it comes to accolades at the end of the year. Regardless, the band has not only released their best work, but one of the better and more emotional records from the scene in recent memory. Give the record a few spins; it may shake up your AOTY plans.