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October 1, 2013 at 10:10 AM
Progressive indie-rockers Polvo journey to ‘Siberia’ | Album review
Indie-rock reunions aren’t created equal.
Most often, bands return just long enough to collect their dues and satiate bigger fanbases than they’d left (Pavement). Some do a commemorative one-off, only to disappear again (Slint). Others take a noncommittal, play-it-by-ear approach (The Afghan Whigs).
Then, there are the rare exceptions — those who recapture their initial spark and decide to run with it.
With their second LP since reconvening in 2007 — “Siberia,” out Tuesday on Merge Records — Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Polvo joins Dinosaur Jr. and Mission of Burma on a short list of beloved indie groups back in action, writing and recording new material.
In the 1990s, the foursome was cool by association, sharing a hometown with Superchunk and opening for golden-era Sonic Youth. Yet they were always musicians’ musicians — prog-rock nerds disguised in flannel and Converse — and, on “Siberia,” sound like the band they always hoped to be.
A Polvo song is like an aimless walk with a friend where you’re not sure where you’re going, but know you’ll end up someplace different from where you started and see something interesting along the way. Take, for example, opener “Total Immersion” (listen) — seven minutes of meandering melodies in knotty time signatures that shift without warning, then settle into a dissonant, cyclical refrain.
Though the production is sleeker now, the songwriting slightly less obtuse and the performances more exact, Polvo’s acrobatic dual guitars — bizarrely-tuned, with lots of bends and hammer-ons played unusually high on the fretboard — remain its trademark.
To boot, there are big rock moves here, from ‘70s-flavored synthesizers (“Light, Raking”) and gently-picked acoustic guitars (“Ancient Grains”) to percussive jam-outs (“Blues is Loss”) and growling vocal turns (“The Water Wheel”).
Polvo’s last record, 2009’s “In Prism,” had some wow moments — like the striking “Beggar’s Bowl,” their poppiest song to date — but was rigid and uneven as a whole.
With the fluid, streamlined “Siberia,” however, they’ve scored a rare hat trick — taking a signature style, expanding on it, and making it novel and engaging for diehards and neophytes alike.
Stream the album here.
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