Release Date: Sep 8, 2009
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Experimental
The alt-rock reunions we've seen over the past decade have generally fallen into one of three categories: the notoriously combative legends who've let time-- or lucrative post-reunion guarantees-- heal all wounds (the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. ); the post-punk pioneers collecting on the debt owed to them by a new generation of spiritual offspring (Wire, Gang of Four, Mission of Burma); or the fleetingly successful 1990s-era acts who don't have anything better to do (Urge Overkill). But the sudden, surprising return of Polvo (or, at least three quarters of its original line-up) after a 12-year absence does not adhere to any of these scripts.
As far as pure rock bands go, Polvo is right up there at the top of the list. When they disbanded in 1997, they left us with an impressive discography—split between Merge and Touch and Go—that was as varied and menacing as it was consistently engaging and raggedly beautiful. Had they not come back and made a new record, their story in the rock world would still be a complete and vital one.
Beyond finally getting Polvo some recognition and compensation tied to ‘90s nostalgia, there are noble artistic motivations for the band's reunion album, In Prism. In the more than 10 years since they broke up, there still hasn’t been a band that can do spidery and claustrophobic guitar epics better than Polvo. In 1993 they released Today's Active Lifestyles, their defining masterpiece, to undersized publicity.
Polvo's first studio album since 1997's Shapes, 2009's In Prism is a solid return to mathy form. Although 12 years is a long hiatus, it's hardly noticeable that time has passed, with the exception of a few machinery and personnel updates: trading in their el cheapo '60s Sears guitars for some new gear and swapping out their drummer. Back on Merge after re-forming in 2008 to play All Tomorrow's Parties, the bandmembers (Ash Bowie, Dave Brylawski, Steve Popson, with Cherry Valence drummer Brian Quast) still have their chops intact, and they're intent on using them to create winding guitar and bass riffs and intertwining them with haphazard shifts in tempo.
A beacon of vitality in the over-cerebral math rock scene of the '90s, Polvo ostensibly broke up in 1997 after releasing the polarizing, Eastern-tinged Shapes, a maddeningly ambitious record distantly removed from the avant-garde dissonance of their early discography. They've re-emerged with In Prism, and as far as unheralded reunions go, this one's a smashing success. It's a sprawling, psychedelic masterwork, rife with knotty tangles of discordance and serpentine riffs.
Guitar-stranglers Polvo dissipated with little fanfare, except to the consternation of their college rock cult following, after the tour for their previous album, Shapes, which came out on Touch and Go in 1997. After the eclectic sprawl of 1996’s double album Exploded Drawing, Shapes was a mirage of an album that sounded austere and severe, more deeply embracing some of the Eastern-isms that had always colored their work, and flirting with more classic rock jamming than anyone could have expected. Though Shapes was another great Polvo album, you could hear the band becoming less interested in being Polvo and more interested in following their own respective muses.