Polvo - Today's Active Lifestyles (Cover Artwork)


Today's Active Lifestyles (1993)


Throughout my college years, I despised Sonic Youth. Nonetheless, I was enthralled by the words used by my hipster friends when describing their music. I wanted to love a band whose songs inspired me to enthuse about each rambling lick as if it were a sentient entity. They argued over which seven-minute epic on Daydream Nation flowed the best and I felt like my collection of hardcore and punk records just laid there like dead fish in comparison. Thankfully, my friends were open-minded and grew to share my love for Slint, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and Chapel Hill indie rockers Polvo.

Polvo's second album, Today's Active Lifestyles, is one that tiptoes through the tulips. While there is an urgency coursing throughout most of the songs, it often gets totally undermined by the interplay between the two guitarists: Ash Bowie plays tightly wound, punky riffs; Dave Brylawski strums loosey-goosey classic rock chords that veer all over the road. This strange dynamic lends even their catchiest moments a ramshackle charm. For example, "Tilebreaker" is an anthemic power-pop song at its core, yet the band performs it as if they were balancing on four wobbly hubcaps threatening to fall off at any moment. "Lazy Comet" features slow, quavering guitar lines but a snappy rhythm section, and strikes a Middle Eastern vibe that also shows up at other points on the record.

Upon first listen, these shifting dynamics will annoy many. While there is a substantial amount of interesting melodies from song to song, the arrangements often break away into something completely different before basking in them for too long. At least in that respect, Today's Active Lifestyles is extremely frustrating. But had they kept just one or two melodies per song, they wouldn't have sounded like Polvo -- just like a really good Slint/Dinosaur Jr. hybrid.

One of the few cited problems with this album has been the production; it's rather flat in some areas, and Ash Bowie's nondescript vocals are buried low in the mix when they probably could have complemented many of the melodies. However, since the tinny quality of their sound disqualifies Polvo from ever being considered an energetic rock band, it is far from a fatal flaw; it actually helps to emphasize their unique ambience and guitar interplay.

For those who decide to step boldly into this release, what you will get is a mixture of the screwed-up and the undeniably beautiful, with bizarre moments sticking out like sore thumbs. Together, these elements form the musical equivalent to an abstract painting. It is hard to understand at first, but over time its structure will unfurl before your eyes.