. issue XI : ii .

by barathron

. artist : polvo .
. album : today’s active lifestyles .
. year : 1993 .
. label : merge .
. grade : a plus .


The purest polaroid of Polvo’s myopic dream, a sparse tincture envisioned spare, too dirty to throw out, to precious to slight … — wait — is their second and o-so-sophomore effort, Today’s Active Lifestyles, a masterpiece not just crooked in its slung, limping, limpid-eyed guitars, fuzzy and jilted, careering like insects, murky muddy naiads or ‘tragic’ magic ‘carpets’ — but in its crook-and-flail mind, too. Psychologically involved but impartial, Lifestyles lacks the robustness for navigating (you know those) mid-90’s faux-problems with the consistently articulate aptitude of Knapsack or Built to Spill. The result is a tantalizing album complicit in its own skittishness and crying wolf.

Sonically, Lifestyles foists a dithering vertigo on its listener; the orbital eccentricity is extreme and unnaturally — supranaturally? — fickle. Though foreign and incoming, the vector is recognized, full-screen, unkindly medial, planting the listener on the flight path as a stationary target locked-in and subject to kaleidoscopic clout. At times a cruise and at (most) others a tranquilized stuntshow — only stunt single — Polvo’s ascendancy in 1993 was no accidental metamorphosis. Unfortunately, this was high tide, apogee at zenith, black sands … and they’ll never sound so ochre-damp and brunt, unsettled, unsifted again. Socially, Polvo are equally mazey in mosey haze, recruiting constantly that eight-grade funhouse epiphany (can’t be love lost when lovelorn); it’s both exaggerated and mature; loosely shoestringed, it skips a grade; or it’s adult, precociously, attendantly sensitive, all tender meat as it moults through growing pains … still.

Lifestyles opens with the contrite engine squeals of several false starts. Bunched, wending, and pent up, “Thermal Treasure” wields a wild lash of release, melodically coming to terms between weird, riotous outbreaks. Resonant guitar in the backlit aura of backup feels slightly schoolboy, an enthused but mechanical charade in which he cheated and spoke and cheated; not so different from the repossession of understanding offered by this unique free verse narrative, mostly obscured by slabs of motoric guitar, that portrays character situation (“Now I’ve got your picture hanging upside down / And only you can flip it right”) before circumstantial situation (“Finally I recognize the shape of your soul / Flashing in a crystal punch bowl”). The moral conundrum, too, is clear — there isn’t one, but this function-attendant boy-man of the nineties, lanky, unmuscled and pallidly anticipating the tiredness of life (“Follow the grapevine down into the goldmine / There is a treasure, but she’s hiding it behind a blank stare”) forgets to remember. In a song constituted by the mental interstice of “empty fists” and “blank stares,” it ends with akin, recognizably disaffected gestures, a mathy typhoon of jolting accents that’ll curtain call one. “Thermal Treasure” is a lucid introduction to Lifestyles, a squirmy portrait that manifests a fussy rigidity, regularity on the edge of a not-irregular tantrum.

“Lazy Comet,” demonstrably one of the most demiurgic guitar pieces ever penned, anvil hammers under an eye-socket-vibrating ethnic rumble and hypnotic wrangle, its instrumental and vocal tangents mesmerically momentarily entwined, like conveyor incidents halved and headed in opposing vectors or orbits propulsed through their repulsion. “Lazy Comet” operates with a strange conceit, a “Lazy comet! Lazy comet!” that, like a weighty and awkward truth presiding over the couple, suspended, draws spectators for the suspension down here. Just look up and remember (oh yeah) — it’s good thing to look up and away from each other (at) [ ]. And as often as Polvo is phasic, find the social stutter here constantly repossessed by the future in a discount reprisal, a salt-over-shoulder derivative (“First time it crossed my mind / Second thoughts with my design”). Ostentatious guitar flourishes seem to be toasting the potential (to enact) oh-naturel removal, as “To a soldier smarter, bolder / Things have seem to gotten older / By design.” The magnitude of this pas compliqué desolation is on par with Eccles., blasphemous polysemy: “And time could fly by by the time it goes by / You know try to draw the shutters on the ground below / Watch it / Lazy comet, lazy comet / Can’t stop it / It’s a lazy comet, lazy comet.” // Time could fly. ‘Bye bye.’ And Polvo says it even more sibilantly: “Watch it.”

“Action Vs. Vibe” is a junior varsity scoreboard too assertive in its cafeteria tray anger. Nearly silent in its muffled howl, a guitar stoops like footsteps swelling, swollen and buzzing, like an overstuffed bee caterwauling into a crank-cord, unanswerable phase, malign and embittered, “You said you didn’t wanna go — I like that.” “Action Vs. Vibe” represents a bone-knit misalignment and life-sized slogans as pedantic and condescending, with resonant write offs (right?) about the end of association (“You said disappointment always comes in threes / And there’s a challenge everywhere you see / But I won’t be thinking like that”), settling into the new faux pas of the old one-two one with a profound acknowledgment of just how profoundly things have been mislaid: “At a time of action / Vibe.” The song concludes somberly, abuzz in its perfect synchrony interrupted by a yowling guitar that leads, ajar, into “Gemini Cusp,” a yawning maw caw of mathy excellence, syntactically sound, but giving the impression that each note has tripped over the previous. It’s truly a guitar fretter, as Bowie gangs up on himself and then on the other: “I can’t hear them without a taste of doubt / And still I doubt, that’s what I’m all about / It’s all my doubt,” concluding, “But I was born on the Gemini cusp / And that’s enough of trust.”

Lyrical standouts “Stinger” and “Time Isn’t On My Side” deserve full quotations for their miserable coherency, their oblique poignancy distracted rather than distraught to everyone except the listener. The fuzzy, gravitationally askance reel ramble of “Stinger” is possessive and all-consumptive, ensnared in a primordial purl, jostling with a tectonic force and quaver, chasm-cosmic drums, and terror. It’s a sort of biologically-complicit (Wanderer Above The) Sea of Fog:

When one line refuses to cover / When his heart is already tied to another
If it’s traced from the cycle I’m in / When the turn stops the next one begins
One ten second relapse to meander / Endanger to the point of a stinger
Now it’s stuck in my gut / Is it my turn to keep these things shut?

Sometimes you dream of people / Older than your city in the back of your mind
The pages tear away from the spine / Then it’s your turn to make our mind
Five wings and the poacher has me / Staring like you don’t want to see
We call it a blast from the past / We can fly by to make it still last

“Time Isn’t On My Side” is a paisley admissal, a wallpaper rout, a lemonade ode aspired to rot. Whimsical blips of super nintendo bounce down autumnal ‘lanes’ — back when there were lanes — its head aching with transductive tunnel vision … the relieved recovery from these quavering, off-kilter dis-unions. The lyrics ring with an ‘impressive’ despondence, with a nerdy, needy but self-confident clarity. The catty-corner self-reliant quirk of this solo could heal anything in theory, with practice.

Time isn’t on my side any more than you / And that’s the only thing that is halfway true
I can tell you what’s wrong with this picture I took / Don’t remember where  I centered myself
Waiting for the dusty shelf to get wiped down / Practicing my lines with a personal shine

And now we’ll doubt, we’ll try / To celebrate an expiration past its prime
Stretching out the time will be fine / Someone break it down, we’ll be fine

And now we’ll give it a rest / Knowing that it’s you who can say it best
Show me what you feel about your mess / Say, ‘Fortunately, I am impressed’

Otherwise, “My Kimono” is an instro of immense complexity; slightly under the weather and a peculiar seriousness in tow, it’s two juxtaposed orbits; tolerant, it has older friends. “Sure Shot” is persistently angular but also perversely waggly. And “Shiska” is a garage of sentient power tools wending to yogic whims, immolating furnace booms, and a neatly decontextual turn of phrase: “Thinking that we’re the same / Brings our difference to light” (all of “Shiska” is as nice and irrelevant as this proverb). Lifestyle’s single, “Tilebreaker,” is a noise undertow of crumbly, hungry sediment, crying memorably, “I don’t need to know their names.” It’s the most of-its-time, and no wonder it’s the single: everything else here is too good.

Polvo is Ash Bowie (g, vox), Dave Brylawski (g, vox), Steven Popson (b-g), and Eddie Watkins (d). Too bad we can’t go back to 1993 for the sake of psychology’s fontanelles, and this ceaseless redefinition of grown (yet?), and all the people still living somewhere in their minds (and) knee-deep in this album.

by Brittany Tracy