Beyond finally getting Polvo some recognition and compensation tied to ‘90s nostalgia, there are noble artistic motivations for the band's reunion album, In Prism. In the more than 10 years since they broke up, there still hasn’t been a band that can do spidery and claustrophobic guitar epics better than Polvo. In 1993 they released Today's Active Lifestyles, their defining masterpiece, to undersized publicity. The rock bands that did get press that year -- Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine -- begat Nickelback, Creed and Papa Roach, while Polvo begat, well, Les Savy Fav, if you’re being generous. But I can’t imagine a world where Polvo’s Ash Bowie would perform in his undies in front of a festival crowd. Dude is too serious for that.
All of which gives In Prism a distinct ‘90s vibe. It's probably the least ‘90s-sounding album in the Polvo oeuvre (it has to be the cleanest, and heaviest, sounding Polvo album yet), but its overall atmosphere feels dropped in from a bygone era, where doing songs with cataclysmic and sprawling four-minute intertwined guitar workouts made you the coolest band on the block.
The creepy-crawly punisher “Beggars Bowl,” In Prism’s first single, perfectly encapsulates the album’s sound and Polvo’s charms: It never ceases movement, always building upon the high-wire guitar riffs, and stomps around like it should be used to soundtrack a trailer for a movie with a lot of explosions. The track also forms the meaty middle portion of the album’s strongest three-song run, slotted in between with the winding “D.C. Trails” and the stately Zeppelin-esque pomp of “City Birds.”
The spacier side of Polvo’s psychedelic-rock influences shines throughout the album’s 49 minutes, however. The billowing “Lucia” serving as In Prism’s centerpiece; it begins and ends with mellow instrumentals, while the middle of the song is vintage guitar histrionics. And there couldn’t be a better title for the hazy “Dream Residue/Work.”
There’s really only one analog for In Prism: Dinosaur Jr’s Beyond, another reunion album that had a recently reunited, cult band acting like the 10-plus years off never even happened. In Prism is the same. It’s the sound of Polvo insistently reminding listeners that they brought hot fire in 1993, and they can still bring it as good as ever in 2009.
Polvo are the O.G.s of math-rock, doing densely epic and tightly wound guitar epics back when everyone was trying to find flannel in their size and do songs with only three chords. Then Polvo went away in the 1998 when the group imploded after moving to Tough & Go from the comfy confines of Merge. But in 2008, the group got together to do All Tomorrow's Parties in New York and decided to reunite in wax form, cutting the eight tracks that form In Prism, their third album for Merge (and fifth overall), and first since 1997's Shapes. There are a few things you can count on: loud guitars, the mood claustrophobic, and the overall sound 1995-like. All of which are great things.