Change brings both a new outlook and new detractors. Ask Jimmy Stadt, vocalist for upstate New York post-hardcore outfit Polar Bear Club, whose newfound vocal range brings a sheen to Polar Bear Club's tight pop-rock structures that can still open up a pit. On Death Chorus, the band's fourth release since their formation in 2005, Stadt's wonderfully descriptive imagery meets a guitar-forward sound that's nothing short of unadulterated fun, with a few pensive moments sprinkled in for contrast.
While Death Chorus is a rollocking, reflective slice of pop-rock to the untrained ear, Stadt's vocal approach was met with reproach and confusion by diehard fans. He says that his range changed out of the blue, even with a clean bill of health from a otolaryngologist, but despite the change, Stadt's lyricism is stronger than ever. Polar Bear Club has been together for almost ten years, and Death Chorus feels like the culmination of Stadt's experience looking both forward and backward.
"I just like lyricists that are unique and funny and sad, [with] kind of a journalistic approach to themselves," he says. "My standards vastly surpass my skills, so it takes me a while to get the lyrics accurate and right, and then people hear the way it sounds and are like, 'Oh, fuck this.' I'm like, 'No, please read a lyric or two before you get to 'fuck this.''"
However pop-influenced the band may now be, Polar Bear Club has always been one of those lucky acts that can tour with whomever they like, much like upstate New York compatriots Every Time I Die. They're as shapeshifting as they need to be, which sometimes pigeonholes them into categories that they don't necessarily want to be placed. It's a double-edged sword that Stadt is aware of, but it's just part of the game.
"I think we're just a band that people like to mold into whatever it is they think we're like, but to us it's just a rock band and we're really just making music that we like," he says.
The farthest departure from Polar Bear Club's sound comes mid-record on Death Chorus in the form of "Siouxsie Jeanne," a narrative ballad built around plucked, sparse electric guitar, describing illicit rendezvous with an unrequited love. It's a far cry from the mosh pits and wild stage presence of Polar Bear Club, and has been skewered by critics of the record. Stadt is unfazed however -- it's a song that's close to his heart, no matter where it ends up. "That song may be just forever be on an album, and that's totally fine with me, but I will tell you 100% that it's the most personal song I've ever written," he says. "It's very much from my worldview, like a character version of myself. Sometimes it's more journalistic, more straightforward, but I definitely experiment a little more with narrative writing."
Stadt's self-awareness seems to be a similar overarching theme to Polar Bear Club as a whole -- they write for themselves, pleasing and sometimes polarizing fans while gaining new ones in the process. For Stadt, in the end, it's about just sticking to your guns.
"I think we've always been a band at our heart that's about things that are universal: honesty, passion, and positivity," he says. "These are things that, no matter what kind of music you do, if align yourself with it, you connect on some level."
Polar Bear Club are scheduled to play Pub Rock on Sunday, Dec. 1.
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