Randomising the record collection #21: Polar Bear – Held On The Tips Of Fingers

#2723 – Polar Bear – Held On The Tips Of Fingers
(CD, 2005) (Discogs tracklisting)

21 polar bear

Today, I’m giving myself the day off. There are two interconnected reasons for this: I’m somewhat viral (nothing too major, but enough to sap the strength and addle the brain), and I’m performing on stage tonight (and so am choosing to conserve what powers I have remaining, delicate am-dram hothouse flower that I am).

There’s also a third reason: this is a jazz album, and I’m no good at writing about jazz. I listen to it from time to time – more so in recent months, spurred on by my love for Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, my favourite album of 2015 – but I lack context and insight. And when I do listen, I don’t altogether listen fully, focusing largely on the overall groove and skimming over the intricacies of the playing. In particular, I struggle to make sense of jazz solos; the language they speak has always eluded me.

However, I wouldn’t want to let you down. And so, following a Facebook exchange yesterday, I have secured the services of a guest blogger for today’s write up. His name is John P, and he is one of my New Knaresborough Friends.

I first met John through my involvement with Knaresborough’s Frazer Theatre; he is our vice-chairman, and the founder/booker/promoter of our highly successful monthly comedy nights. We acted together in the 2014 panto, when my Dame memorably vanquished his villain with the aid of a Wonder Woman costume, an inflatable banana and a troupe of cardboard minions. John subsequently cast me as a psychotic, sado-masochistic dentist in his production of Little Shop of Horrors, which we performed last summer, thus helping me to overcome my lifelong aversion to Musical Theatre.

John is a geek of many colours. He is a comedy geek, a film geek, a tech geek, a sci-fi/fantasy geek, a gaming geek… but, as his guest post will make clear, he is absolutely not a jazz geek. We haven’t had many conversations about music, but I do know that he is firmly a child of the Nineties, who got awfully excited about last year’s Blur reunion.

Never one to couch his opinions in gentle language, John is also a serial dropper of Truth Bombs. These are my Top Three John P Truth Bombs to date. I cannot quibble with any of them.

1. “Mike, you need to stop talking about Nottingham all the time. You live in Knaresborough now.”

2. “To survive a visit to Mike and K’s house, you basically have to be Oliver Reed.”

3. “Mike, you know we all love you. But let’s face it, you’re really just a gateway drug to K.”

If I carry on much longer, my introduction will be longer than John’s guest post, which he wrote last night in a single take, as Polar Bear streamed on Spotify. So let me hand over to him now. John P, everyone!

Randomising Mike’s Record Collection – Held on the Tips of Fingers: Polar Bear

So, for reasons that seemed rational and amusing earlier in the day, I shall review a record plucked by fate from Mike’s collection. Perhaps somewhere in his vast hinterland is a copy of one of the late 90’s Shine compilations. That would have been nice. Or maybe an early pressing of An Awesome Wave by Alt-J. I would have been supremely comfortable with that. Instead, at nearly 10pm, I am about to start reviewing what can only be described, apparently, as a jazz album.

Oh, hubris…

Still, onwards.

1. Was Dreaming You Called You Disappeared I Slept

Hmm… starts with some random noise and a bit of sax. No discernible melody yet. Oh yes, it’s jazz.

Well, let’s see… It’s all very atonal, isn’t it? Some drums, but no particular rhythm. God, is this music? No, give it a chance.

Oh, it appears to have ended. That’s a short one. OK, perhaps this is just an intro song. Buck 65 likes intro songs, so it must be a good idea. Mind you, “Leftfielder” this ain’t.

Sense of dread building.

2. Beartown

Right, this is a bit more jaunty. The hand claps remind me of Emma Thompson’s semi-improvised show Thompson’s theme tune. Bum-bum-ba-ba-bum. Quite catchy that. Still, there seems to be a lot of nonsense going on over the sterling repetitive beat.

This reminds me of music appreciation class at school. Is it a valid appreciation of music to remember a time when you were appreciating music? I’m not sure Mr Western would approve.

I mean, this is better than the first track, but still, really not actually, y’know, any good. It was quite promising at first, but as these – Jesus! – nearly six minutes go by, I find myself quite cross. At least the first track promised brevity.

3. Fluffy (I Want You)

OK, back to the “starting with random noise” gambit are you? Fine. Let’s see how that works out for you.

Some of these phrases are actually enjoyable; they put me in mind of a Sixties cop-show. Then some fucker just randomly rings a bell in the background and they ruin it again.

Beginning to suspect that I don’t like jazz.

And on it goes. There doesn’t seem to be any progression. I wonder if they’re aiming for something? It just seems so random. Is that the point? It can’t be.

They’re repeating bits again, making me think it’s a proper song. It isn’t. It ends with random noise too.

4. To Touch the Red Brick

Ooh, good drums. Like that at the start. And the sax is behaving too. Come on guys, keep this up.

Now, this is a bit more like the stuff they play in Noble. I’m put in mind of drinking excellent cocktails in a secret speakeasy.

Come on guys, don’t fuck it up. Because you’re on the verge of fucking it up.

No, it’s back to something at least resembling a tune. Couldn’t hum it, but it’s there. This one’s alright so far.

Oh, it’s also very short. Well, fuck.

5. Held on the Tips of Fingers

The title track, so I imagine they were very happy with this one. Again.

Dangerously verging on melody. Would you describe it as “sultry”? I probably would.

Beginning to realise I only hear jazz in bars. Why do bars play jazz? Pondering this and not paying attention to the music. Perhaps the music has transported me to a place of introspection and wonder. Perhaps this song seems to meander without ever doing anything of note, good or bad. That seems more likely, to be perfectly honest.

Don’t hate this, but nor do I care about it. I can’t see why you’d ever choose to listen to it. Unless you are too stubborn to skip it. Which is the position I find myself in.

6. Argumentative

Ooh, a little bit of Latin flavour at the start there. Some slap bass, now that’s quite nice. Stop fucking about over at the back there – you stopped paying attention for a moment, didn’t you, and it all went shit.

Come on, I suspect you’re actually a pretty good band when you want to be. I think they just need a conductor. Perhaps all jazz is just musicians in desperate need of a man with a baton?

They’re getting along perfectly well and then go off on some tuneless digression. I get it’s free form, but I assumed you did that and then kept all the good bits. Was this album just recorded live in one take?

Really starting to suspect I don’t like jazz now.

7. The King of Aberdeen

A little bit haunting, interesting counterpoint, the first 20 seconds are nice. Well, as nice as it gets on here. This sounds more like they’ve at least discussed a vague idea of what they’re going to do before they hit “record”.

Oh, as I type that, it all seems to have ground to a halt. Just the bass noodling now over drums. This reminds me of every shit film I’ve ever watched late at night of Channel 4. Except The Transporter, but that’s got The Stath in it.

What was I saying? Oh yes. God, this drones on. Not enjoying this one. It’s just boring. Starting to eye the clock in the corner of my screen. I was expecting it to tell me it’s 2024. Apparently it’s not even half ten yet. Christ. I’ll go check the headlines and let you know if anything good happens.

Nope, it didn’t.

8. Your Eyes the Sea

More upbeat again – good, the last few have been dirges. But it seems the faster the beat goes, the less attention they pay to what each other are doing.

The drummer appears to have woken up from whatever stupor he was in. The drums have probably been the best part of the album so far.

Think about that.

“The drums have probably been the best part of the album so far.”

Christ. That’s a sentence I’ve written in the English language.

And now they’re shouting. Wordlessly, of course. More yelping, if anything. Stop that.

Sudden end. Nope, that wasn’t very good.

9. Life That Ends Too Soon

Unlike this album, which can’t end soon enough.

SHIT! They’re singing! What the actual fuck? Why is there singing on this? You can’t just have singing on the last track? Even Mogwai were big enough twats to do that. And Mogwai really are absolute twats. I mean, what the fuck were they doing supporting the Manic Street Preachers? Fuck me, that was the wrong choice. Mind you, it was in support of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, so who know what they were thinking. Not as bad as Lifeblood though.

Oh, I forgot about the album for a moment there. Thinking about an INFINITELY BETTER band.

The singing has stopped now. That was such a pleasant surprise, I almost started enjoying it. Almost.

Oh, is this a hidden track? The song ended, and now there’s a different song. Hidden tracks don’t really work on Spotify.  Remember when Ash released 1977 on CD and you could rewind past the start of track one to get to two hidden tracks? That was great. This isn’t. This is more annoying than anything else on the album. This is actually making my ears hurt.

Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! That’s the sound of this song. Not Whoop Whoop, which is the sound of the police. Or Vwoorp Vwoorp, which is the sound of the Tardis.

Another sudden end to the final track on the album. Most of them just stopped like that. I don’t really approve.

I did not care for this album. It was not, as far as I can determine, any good at all. Perhaps I have missed the point. I understand jazz is about the notes they didn’t play. I would have rather enjoyed it if they hadn’t played most, if not all, of these.

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