Album Review: Las CasiCasiotone – Polar Bears Are Coming EP

[Irregular Records; 2012]

It’s strange how spoken word can feel a great deal more effective, important, and poignant when set to music. Take the sample of the speech John F. Kennedy gave before the American Newspaper Publishers Association in 1961, which appears in the title track on Las CasiCasiotone’s EP Polar Bears Are Coming. It explores the relationship the media should have with the government and the public, and their responsibilities to provide material “to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion” rather than simply produce news that appeals to the public’s desire for something that is more entertaining than informing. It’s one of Kennedy’s many, many thought-provoking speeches that still resonates today, more than fifty years after the matter.

However, unless you’re interested in hearing about this on-going debate, then listening to it for its twenty minute run time might not captivate you. As clear a speaker as Kennedy was, and as effective as he was at getting across a point, the grainy recordings we have of him now seem more like reference points then an inspiration for a new era. But when a clip of the speech is played over Las Casicasiotone’s slowly unfurling electronica, it seems to be something from a different age, a relic of a completely different era. One could argue that it captures the tense Cold War air of the time, but it also sounds like it’s removed from any kind of specific location – it sounds like the narrative of a half-remembered dream. The synths buzz lightly, as sonics go in and out of the picture, all while a steadily growing beat keeps the time. “Polar Bears Are Coming” is nothing innovative, but it’s still alluring, if not captivating.

The other two songs from this EP can be described in much the same way: “Musculitos” is a quietly brooding number that doesn’t sound too far off a Silent Shout-era instrumental track by The Knife, while “Octopus Killer” brings in a slightly more playful edge from the Spanish female duo, as sharp stabs of feedback crescendo on the track’s latter half. While “Octopus Killer” is most likely to catch your attention in the first listens, “Musculitos” is the track that’ll creep up on you. It’s almost strange how absorbed you can get, while simultaneously not feeling like you’re acknowledging it at all, like a perfect piece of ambience. Keyboard strings come and go, while a jittery synth line moves about carefully; there’s not a lot going one, but that’s the point I guess, in that there’s nothing to jolt you back into reality, or to disturb the efficient flow of the track.

It’s just a shame that the EP is so brief. While a lot of good EPs make you pine for more material from the artist, Polar Bears Are Coming sounds like it could have done with plenty more additional material. The title track sounds like it’s the introduction to a different world, and could easily start of an album, but here, with not quite enough time to get fully absorbed in Las Casicasiotone’s world, it can feel more like a chore to want to sit through over and over (personally I think I prefer to watch Obama slow-jam the news with The Roots), especially when you can just skip to “Musculitos.” Still, this is all promising material, and it feels like it could be well worth checking out a more substantial offering from Las CasiCasiotone in the future.