Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Polvo began in 1990 when most of us were mere babes. After four critically acclaimed albums, a sting of EPs released on Merge and Touch and Go, and tours across the United States and Europe with bands like Sonic Youth and Pavement, Polvo called it quits in 1997. But, as is the recent trend, Polvo reunited in 2008 for All Tomorrows Parties and several stateside shows, this string of performances then mutated into Polvo’s first album in twelve years, In Prism.
To this reviewer, Polvo has always been one of those bands that is familiar in name, not by output; the scene workhorse that consistently releases albums without much fanfare. I always felt a bit guilty about not really giving Polvo my attention: they wrote solid well-crafted songs and delivered them genuinely, what’s not to love? The problem I saw Polvo having was that they there were other active bands at the time (Archers of Loaf, The Jesus Lizard, and Jawbox, to name a few) that were doing the exact same things, only better. Polvo got relegated to the indie rock B-team with bands like Giants Chair and Gauge. I am not trying to slight these bands. They all deserve much more credit than what they received for one reason or another.
That brings us to In Prism, which, like the rest of Polvo’s career, isn’t good or bad, it’s just okay. The songs are interesting, but they all seem to follow the mid-nineties math rock playbook: riffs on top of riffs, changes on top of changes, quiet part, vague emotional lyrics, noodling solo, repeat for 5-8 minutes, TA-DAH! The songs that having staying power are track three “Beggar’s Bowl” and the album closer “A Link in the Chain”: “Beggar’s Bowl” deserves recognition for two reasons, besides being one of the stronger cuts on the album, 1) It’s laughable, yet endearing use of chimes, and 2) I defy you to listen to the song without singing Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. “A Link in the Chain” displays the slower side of Polvo, which does well to show how truly great guitarists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski are at their instruments (although I could’ve done without the epic Yes-ian build-up only to be met with, essentially, an instrumental cock-block [don’t worry I won’t quit my day job]).
We live in a time where everyone longs for their favorite bands to reunite and release “just one more album” or go on “one more tour” and while In Prism is a solid album that any band should be proud of, I think it’s time to retire those thoughts of Pavement, Archers of Loaf, or Quicksand reuniting and just be happy with memories of the way things were, rather than grieving over what those bands have become (I’m looking at you Weezer).