A Future History of the Frigid Polar Night

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Starting with a smart reference to post-punk guitar gods the Chameleons -- the opening lines to the first song, "The Road to Ismalayia," come directly from that band's "P.S. Goodbye" -- Polar wrapped up its stop-start career with the wonderful A Future History. That "The Road to Ismalayia" itself sounds nothing like the Chameleons -- there are hints of Julee Cruise, the Cure, Slowdive, and more all sweetly mixed together -- gives a sense of Polar's musical reach and skill. Various songwriting partnerships appear throughout the album, confirming that Polar wasn't simply a question of a Ballinger/Moss partnership but involved all its members -- even guest performer Meredith Tousey, credited with piano, co-wrote a track, "Unspoken." Moss herself gets a well-deserved standalone credit with "This Dress," which has a dreamy late-Cocteau Twins sound and a great, well-sung lyric about romantic distance and frustration. Compared to the subtler charms of Lies Set, A Future History is much more direct without being overblown -- those who appreciate the delicate balance of bands like Echo and the Bunnymen between power and subtlety can appreciate what's shown here. Moss' lovely singing is even more to the fore, her many double-tracked vocal parts allowing her to become a beautiful chorus, while Ballinger and Pierce have an endless well of dark guitar chimes and parts to draw on. As Lies Set also hinted, though, it's not simply shoegaze or post-punk into goth rock that defines the music -- there are hints of New Order's electric dance energy, ambient derivations from Eno, hints of hip-hop and breakbeats, and more besides. The other guest performers besides Tousey -- string player Kristen King and brass performer Frog -- expand the sonic palette even more, the latter adding some understated trumpet for the end feedback crunch on "Tornado," while all three contribute to the elegant swoon of "Unspoken."

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