Polvo: In Prism
Merge Records (2009)
It shouldn’t be possible to sound this good after a 12 year hiatus.
Some say Polvo started math rock, which is bullshit. Odd time signatures and stop/start riffs aside, Polvo cut a path all their own during the 1990s, one that paired rock stylings with dissonant melodies based on Asiatic scales, and some of the strangest lyrics in forever. They peaked with a head-fucking double album called Exploded Drawings (the coolest record title ever. Period), and settled down with a sombre, unfocused follow up called Shapes before disappearing.
Now, here they are again as if they never left us. In Prism is nothing but a logical extension of their best work, and a refined culmination of what they may have wanted to achieve with Shapes. Like that album, In Prism veers between head jerking art rock and intricate reflection. With a little more money behind them, Polvo have benefited hugely from a significant improvement in production, which stops the album’s black and white shades from bleeding into grey, as was the case with Shapes.
The guitars on Right the Relation and Beggar’s Bowl are big, so much bigger than anything they’ve done before. Polvo’s signature, detuned chords have fattened up into something more powerful than your typical indie band. But don’t let ‘big’ tempt you into believing this is arena rock. The guitar licks still take left turns up the fretboard where notes are bent out of shape and snapped back into place again. Polvo will never be mainstream darlings.
On slower numbers, such as album highlight Lucia, Polvo extort their new sound to fold moody jangles into a swollen and hypnotic crescendo of metronomic guitars. It’s a lush noise that the band has only toyed with in the past, and even at eight minutes long, Lucia is over almost too quickly. Keys, strings and other miscellaneous debris have been strewn throughout the record, adding to the sense that the scope of their sound has increased while augmenting the unique nature of the band’s approach to instruments.
Polvo’s reunion is bound to have haters, many of whom will be chin strokin’ nerds of the 90’s dissing the lack of Lo-Fi ethos. Fuck that. Polvo’s intricate guitar work and complicated song structures have never sounded so clear or mesmerising. After 12 years it has to be expected that the band has matured somewhat, anything else would have been a disappointment. In Prism shows that the boys have still got it and look sure to keep giving it for some time to come.