The seductively languid, faintly mournful personality of Polar Bear is evolving – albeit at their typical unhurried pace – and melody and rhythm are gradually altering locations. Polar Bear's grooves sound steadily much more melodic, and their melodies more financially cryptic, than when they had been Mercury reward nominees back 2005. Though they usually haven't lost their particular quiet authority and talent for patient storytelling, they sound as if more hook-oriented groups of their orbit – including the now-disbanded Acoustic Ladyland and new performers Sons of Kemet, both involving Polar Bear drummer Seb Rochford – have had a significant influence on how many records they believe a contemporary melody needs to have.
This Bishopsgate gig gave us a sneak preview of next year's brand new record album. After a brief solo pair of sporadically orchestral power and occasional Bill Frisellian appeal from Italian guitar-electronicist Stefano Pilia, Polar Bear opened up on a-deep, whirring hum, stealthily higher level on by Mark Lockheart's sonorous tenor sax. Also during the slowest tempos, they always swing, and a deep groove soon emerged under Leafcutter John's thickening digital designs of crunching metallic noises and birdlike phone calls. A repeating four-note rising hook arose, explored in contrasting ways throughout the lineup, from saxist Pete Wareham's bell-note honks to bassist Tom Herbert's clipped treatments. Some slow-drifting sax harmonising between Lockheart and Wareham offered way to an arrhythmically pumping one-note figure over a shifting pulse, with caged-monster roars from electronics. These converted into a Jan Garbarek-like sax weave through eerie wind-sounds ahead of the nearest thing to a normal song-shape appeared – a folksy horn motif on a groove, like a slow-motion jig. The group started boogieing to Wareham's punchy rock-sax phrasing whilst the energy picked up, although Polar Bear's popular pensiveness shortly came back on Rochford's magnificent Marianne, introduced by ringing cymbal tones, informal tom-tom hits and lightly rumbling bass-drum noises.
The quintet have actually occasionally already been chastised as a band which have stopped growing, but this gig showed the contrary.