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September 28, 2009

Polvo – In Prism (Merge, 2009)

The reviews are pretty much all in by this point: Polvo’s first album in twelve years is being deemed (largely) a success. Various reviewers have had their say in favour of it, but there are also some complaints that can’t be ignored.

Are they the same band? In Prism is a record that has many of the qualities that make Polvo so interesting, yes, but it also shows a band that’s broken with their past in some ways. Maybe “broken with their past” is a bit dramatic, and it might be better to say that there exists a sonic discontinuity between this record and their older ones, which is evident right off the top. The riffs are butchy and the production clean, which makes this record sound very different from their nineties albums. Better gear and a cleaner sound may appeal to some, but that rattling, twisted guitar sound that was such a fundament of the old records isn’t present here. A lot of the guitar parts themselves are still good, as are the songs by and large, but a fundamental component of the group’s sound has changed, and that’s hard to look past. It’s not entirely for the worse though, really, as, in the end the band sounds like they probably should here – like Polvo over a decade later – and not like an imitation.

Another striking thing about this record is that, at times, it’s kind of like a representative of an alternate nineties. Some of the tunes rock on riffs that are as though Polvo had no concept of all the worst post-grunge drudgery, re-emerging now unaware or unconcerned. Although it comes out sounding less freaky and compelling overall, there’s no lack of ambition on this record. Some of the tracks work better than others, but, at some points, everything they’re trying does come together really well. As on “Lucia,” or the album closer “Link in the Chain,” for example.

A reviewer over at Tiny Mix Tapes made the point of saying that this record reminded him of Sonic Youth’s records with Jim O’Rourke. In both cases, you’ve got a pretty venerable band showing their age with a new sound. The end results, of course, are different, and this Polvo record may just come up short for some. Just now before finishing this, I’ve seen this review over at Exclaim!, which, in some ways, I can’t argue with. In the end, this is a tough one. It’s not a bad record, but it’s so hard to not take into account the band’s past when appreciating it.


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