Every so often a band will come along with an album and defy expectations you didn’t even realise you held. This is Polvo’s sixth album in twenty-one years, and the second since the Chapel Hill group’s reformation in 2008. Two decades on from their definitive ‘Today’s Active Lifestyles’ album, the band shows no signs that the ten year hiatus that preceded their All Tomorrow’s Parties reunion has dulled their flair for the precision guitar interplay and erratic directional twists and turns that typified their output. In fact, they’ve produced a record that’s every bit as vital as those of their earlier days.
Opener Total Immersion takes a Sabbath-like approach in its no-nonsense, dark-leaning rock. The rhythm section forms a coagulating mass of rolls and ebbing frequencies, while psychedelic eddies fight for release from the dense knot. The album’s opening lines immediately cast a glance back in time – “the hippy was gone before the lights came on/he got sick of the hippy chick.” It’s the initial signifier of an album that nods to the heavy rock of the seventies and the psychedelia of the decade previous, pulling them into the present in a seething amalgamation of influences. With ‘Siberia’, Polvo have taken on the musical equivalent of Sergio Leone’s westerns; the conventions of the genre are present and correct, but it’s all executed with that unmistakeable maker’s mark.
You may be misled down a forest path to ballad country with Blues Is Loss, until the song reveals its true self from behind the façade. The entire first half is instrumental, with twanging flashes of post punk, until Ash Bowie appears with an airy vocal line. The clattering, ‘Who’s Next’ Moon-esque roll that drummer Brian Quast has been threatening since the album began leads into a lumbering riff of, again, Sabbath proportions.
Creative jarring about-turns crop up all over ‘Siberia’; synths fire off over Light, Raking like sirens, before its skewed folk breakdown gives way to an unravelling conclusion; a chiming, eastern Ancient Grains with marching mid-tempo momentum stands in contrast to that which precedes it; the levee-breaking drum intro of Changed heralds a more ‘conventional’ Polvo track until it goes down a panoramic road to its swaggering “standing in line at the station” Americana musings.
The Water Wheel rolls alright, and rocks too funnily enough. The album’s longest track channels Neil Young, the fulcrum of the record where the guitars echo, whine and intertwine in discordant empathy. Aggression is implicit in the otherwise pleasant imagery of “tiny fucking rainbows appear in the mist.” It’s around this point on ‘Siberia’ that the half-thought that’s been rattling around in your brain suddenly becomes full realisation – not only have Polvo made an overtly ‘classic rock’ album…they’ve fucking pulled it off.
In a sense this album belongs to Quast, with the drums pushed to the forefront, pulling everything else along in their relentless march. Alongside the meticulous flourishes that led to Polvo’s labelling as progenitors of math-rock, are the workouts of a loose jam-band; Some Songs fades out, yet the drums clatter on into the ether as if the garage door has been closed on an eavesdropping ear. With a final play of misdirection, Anchoress suddenly decides to transform at the coda as it tramples all over its previous incarnation and calls an unruly end to the album. ‘Siberia’ is a classic Polvo record in more respects than one.
If you like this check out Irish band No Spill Blood