Though not the most boundary-pushing band to have ever come out in the 1990s, Polvo’s music concocted one of the more memorable formulas for synthesizing average guitar rock, frills and all, with east coast post-punk, feedback and all. Known in their heyday as a weird band with chaotic song structures devoid of easy predictability and nonsensical lyrics, the band returns 11 years after their breakup picking up where they left off, retaining a great deal of their chops but with considerable maturity, not to mention a sea of imitators and imitators of imitators. Like someone having awakened from an extended coma, Polvo find themselves in a situation markedly different from the one they were previously in, where the principles that held underground rock’s world in place have been demoted to mere values, and the definition of “small” is either not as small as it once was or not as big as it once was depending on the circumstances. Having heard this album, however, it is fortunate for those who have invested interest in the roots of “math rock,” or simply creative independent music, that Polvo don’t much care about changing climates and perverted non-tributes.
The most consistent reaction to this album is in reference to its tightness in composition and its clarity in production. It is believed by many that this album, though 12 years behind Shapes, is no less fresh than it would have been if it was two years behind Shapes. By all accounts this is correct. Much like their hardcore cousins Coalesce, Polvo find themselves playing together with the style and the cohesion required to convey that style hardly rusted. These eight songs bear the same skill and adventurousness of the Exploded Drawing-era Polvo, if only with several degrees less youthful ambition. While the songs are held together by layered guitars that buzz and jangle over each other and verbose anti-narrative lyrics, the band have no problem switching off styles and tones. The opening tracks bear strong elements of hard rock; riffs chug, the bass pounds, indulgent solos give rise as well. “The Pedlar” is a bona fide pop song with a tighter structure and upbeat rhythm made all the more upbeat by a chorus of claps. “A Link in the Chain” has the makings of a spacious prog piece, possessing a good deal more effects and signature changes than other songs. At the very least, the album’s display of love for riff-driven rock, cock or no, reminded me of a Mooney Suzuki album I’d reviewed some time ago, only it’s far less brain-damaged for making it only a part of the stranger, more fascinating whole.
So there is cause for celebration for fans of above-average indie and other weird rock, but it is wise of them not to confuse the fruits of an effective reunion record with qualifications for induction into the Valhalla of timelessness. Polvo has every right to extend their life span, but they’ll likely not peak as they did during their original incarnation. Polvo was so off-kilter at that time that audiences thought they were just incompetent musicians. In the wake of At the Drive-In, chief among the aforementioned imitators who helped assimilate the sound into the pop world, it will not induce head-scratching. Though I’d not like to point out the sailing of ships, it is more accurate to think of bands like Polvo and Giants Chair as living monuments, polished and composed versions of the rougher realities, for conservative nostalgia that afflicts American punk rock every so often. Polvo find themselves in the cherished but existentially trying position of having so little else to prove that they can do as they please and everyone will love them for it.
Archers of Loaf – Icky Mettle
Sonic Youth – The Eternal
Blonde Redhead – Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons