Just when you think that Polvo will forever be delegated to a world of indie-rock obscurity, along comes Explosions In The Sky to remind the rest of you how great this Chapel Hill band was. But leave it to the band themselves to demonstrate how great they continue to be, a full twelve years after releasing their last platter and calling it a day.
To be honest, the stakes were probably higher than you realize. That last effort (Shapes) sounded like a swan song. It was a nice nod to the classic rock origins entertained the band’s Far East indulgences. As alienating as that album was, for me, it was a perfect way for a band who practically strangled nearly every last novel sound a human could make with an electric guitar to end their career.
So I approached In Prism with the required amount of hesitancy and with the drama that is my own personal history with this band. Even with both of these cynical inclinations, I couldn’t be happier with what I’m hearing and with what I’d expect to be a long shelf life of future plays.
There are noticeable differences between Polvo then and now. Most obvious is in terms of fidelity; this is simply the best sounding Polvo album ever released and I’m sure it has everything to do with how technology has afforded everyone the opportunity to glean state-of-the-art recordings for a penance. The band enlisted noted producer Brian Paulson to frame this reunion together, and part of In Prism‘s success is the result of his efforts.
But the other is the band themselves, who now take a different approach to their guitar deconstruction. Whereas tone and obtuse chords were the rule of old Polvo, the band now obviously relishes the ability to play together again. Guitarists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski weave in, out, and over each other with such potency that even the most quiet of interplay comes out as mindblowing. They also have a hot shit drummer—Brian Quast, formerly of the Cherry Valence—who brings a full-contact ass beating to the skins like the band has never had before.
The progressive noodling of the twin guitarists may be off-putting to some, but it is a logical extension of getting older with the guitar and getting better at navigating it. While Exploded Drawing and Shapes may be exercises in what sounds can be extracted from an amplifier, In Prism shows the band looking at what sounds can come about before the signal even leaves the guitar cable.
This new direction completely plays to the band’s inherent strength, because one of their weaknesses has always been in their lyrics. Not surprisingly, the prose is nothing short of mediocre with more than a few eye-rolling moments (“The peddler arrived on a cold day / With no one to call on / And nowhere to stay”).
You won’t notice them though, because you’ll be too enthralled with the fretwork to keep track of what’s being uttered over the mic. While Shapes may have been a nice way to end Polvo, it is In Prism that renders it obsolete in terms of an decent exit strategy. The latest is a better finish, as epic as swan songs should be, but more importantly, it’s good enough for me to hope the band never considers leaving again.