Review Summary: your favourite album could never rhyme "situation" with "situation" and wear it like this
Anyone can set a decent set of lyrics to a serviceable set of the Usual Chords and expect the appropriate people (who the hell are they?!) to smile and wave, but it takes a truly great band to carve focused songforms out of noise and turn pithy whateverness into lyrical gold dust. Hiya, Polvo! Much like their contemporaries Pavement and their [Pavement’s!] ancestors The Fall, this semi-legendary Chapel Hill noise-indie-rocktimes quartet mastered the art of extracting the most evocative kind of nonsense from slacker penmanship; this is one of the many great and defining qualities of their great and (somewhat) definitive album Exploded Drawing
Okay, woah there. Why are we addressing lyricism, of all things, in the introduction of an informative (pah!) review to a fucking Polvo album? Why does it matter they can drawl out lines as inane as I’m clinging to a memory that we might share/just trying to send a thought through the air
and Don't be ashamed to paint a picture of yourself/you don't need to make it look like anybody else
only for them to scream out as the most respectively chilling and carefree couplets in the big book of music?
Well, uh, it matters
because Polvo are rightly famous first and foremost as a Guitar Music band! This is partially because of the proportion of their early output devoted to dissonant modulationfests, but mainly because guitarists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski are so accomplished and innovative in their angular stylings and tactile instrument abuse that, much like Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr., it would be a disrespect to call their band anything but
guitar music. They’ve led us on with more skronky pyrotechnics and reinterpretations of the Riff than would be wise to count, and so it’s easy to forget that these semblances of indulgence have always camouflaged solid songwriting chops. We’re looking at a group who could pivot in and out of overdrive excursions so close to amorphousness(?) that they’ve been termed ‘math rock’ by people who like terming music ‘math rock’, only to abruptly deliver tracks as fat-free and memorable as “Time Isn’t On My Side”, “Tilebreaker”, “Vibracobra” and “Fractured (Like Chandeliers).” When they want to play it straight, this band brings the thunder, and Exploded Drawing
is almost entirely in this vein, offering a much leaner version of Polvo than previous records suggested.
Pitchfork said that they “successfully unravel[ed] their bee-swarm guitar buzz to explore the polarities of their sound” on this album. Cool! Completely incorrect! There’s a lot of ravelling going on here, and the upshot of it is: bangers! “Feather of Forgiveness” bangs because it’s a brutally catchy purging of peak social awkwardness that cements its chorus with a tenacity that belongs either to the most towering confidence or the lowest depths of insecurity (this is a guitar album). “In This Life” bangs because it foregrounds an unhateable Big Dumb Melody and forces it down your speakers so hard that you would have to erase at least four separate versions of yourself before you could ever successfully forget it. “The Purple Bear” bangs because it flat-out slaps me silly. I don’t fully understand how this one in particular goes so hard when there is no universe in which you could convincingly dance or mosh to it, so I guess it’s full of that beautiful obnoxiousness that makes you want to open all your windows and nod along really loudly until your whole neighbourhood gets the buzz and starts laying on the shitty dancing that you were too afraid to rep yourself, much to your embarrassment but non-regret. Or something.
Anyway, these songs are noisy as hell, but they pack in hook after glorious unvarnished hook with a discipline that easily eschews Polvo’s slapdash slacker aesthetic. Everything on these tracks is focused as hell - so yes, the lyricism does matter because everything
matters. You put one foot wrong, miss one beat, or misgauge one line on a track as airtight as “Crumbling Down” and the whole thing collapses. It’s not all airtightness and noise pop, however! Those missing the sound of the first two Polvo albums will find a solid throwback in “Snow Storm in Iowa.“ Those wondering where all the band’s excessive tendencies went will find them confined entirely to scattergun interludes rather than bloating individual tracks. These interludes’ indiscriminate fuckery with whatever sense of momentum and/or continuity their more compact brethren almost establish may lead some to term this album an absolute mess
or what have you, but you sign up for thrills when you press play on a Polvo record. Go with the flow, or zip up those squarepants and hit the highway!
Finally, those wishing Polvo had broadened their horizons with this album rather than doubling down on their fundaments will be more than tided over by the bookending tracks. Fuck me, those tracks are magnificent. “Fast Canoe” is a slowburner that exemplifies this record’s attention to slick songwriting while juggling tension and release in a performance for the ages, complete with a Spiderland
-esque split-second where one line - that’s one line only - gets screamed and it catches you off-guard and your underwear is ruined and the song is perfectly complete in a way you never expected. The band have a stunning record on album openers, and this one lives up to it. On the other hand, “When Will You Die For The Last Time In My Dreams” sets up similar scenes but ups the ante with a genuinely unnerving sense of sluggish violence that is largely absent from the other two tracks. Raising the stakes up until the last minute, Polvo dish out a closer that (probably) combines the separate angles of whatever this album might have been as a whole if they gave two shits about presenting it coherently into a single shape. It’s perfect. Listen to it.
And then do it again.