Plumbiferous Media

In Prism - Polvo

Sep 13th 2009
In Prism - PolvoPolvo
In Prism
Score: 53

Fol­low­ing an 11-year hia­tus, Pol­vo has reformed and released a new LP, In Prism. With In Prism, Pol­vo has kept the dis­so­nance that defined it as a band, as well as the odd sense of coheren­cy and musi­cal deci­sions that made it influ­en­tial in the devel­op­ment of math rock. In Prism itself, how­ev­er, is not an excel­lent album.

Although Pol­vo does not con­sid­er itself a math rock band, it car­ries the same basic qual­i­ties that define the genre, includ­ing inter­est­ing, unex­pect­ed rhythms, lines, and chord pro­gres­sions. In gen­er­al, this has fueled well-con­struct­ed instru­men­tals through In Prism. Begin­ning with the open­ing track, Pol­vo cre­ates inter­est­ing lines, suc­cess­ful tran­si­tions, unex­pect­ed bridges, and parts that main­tain their pow­er through long tracks (the aver­age track length on In Prism is over six min­utes). The next track then begins with a minute-long tran­sion that slow­ly - near­ly invis­i­bly, unless the lis­ten­er has already heard the track - moves the track from a sin­gle, sim­ple acoustic gui­tar line to a ful­ly fleshed-out song.

But the obvi­ous cli­max of In Prism is “Beggar’s Bowl.” The track dis­plays cre­ative choice of instru­men­ta­tion and tam­bour, chang­ing moods as chord pro­gres­sions shift in direc­tions rarely attempt­ed on a rock album, syn­co­pa­tion in all its glo­ry, build­ing and direc­tion that refuse to let the track dull, and com­mon lines that piece the entire work togeth­er.

In con­trast, the vocals of In Prism are eas­i­ly the worst part of the album, which is a pity, as the album in gen­er­al is at least fair­ly inter­est­ing in most of its oth­er sec­tions. Vocal­ists Ash Bowie and Dave Bry­laws­ki nev­er quite man­age to place the vocal line at a point that would let it show itself above the music, and even giv­en the math-rock ten­den­cy towards asym­me­try and atyp­i­cal musi­cal deci­sions, the vocals are clos­er to irri­tat­ing than inter­est­ing. Sit­ting heav­i­ly on top of the noise of Polvo’s instru­men­tals, the vocals, which are often most rem­i­nis­cent of mediocre grunge with a slight clas­sic-rock influ­ence, do noth­ing but serve to make any­thing non-instru­men­tal annoy­ing.

Lyri­cal­ly, the album is equal­ly mediocre. Most of the lines flow by in a soporif­ic drone, and those that are forcibly impressed upon the lis­ten­er by an unwel­come vocal shift are not note­wor­thy. The best lyrics are the slight­ly strange ones, such as “Sud­den­ly the news comes out to play / We look for beau­ty beyond imper­fec­tion.” Very lit­tle mean­ing can be found in any of these such lines, but they do offer a respite from alter­nate­ly monot­o­nous and irri­tat­ing vocals.

Equal­ly prob­lem­at­i­cal­ly, the vocals not only dull the over­all sound, but dull the instru­men­tals as well. As if Pol­vo is putting all of its effort into unsuc­cess­ful­ly improv­ing the vocals, and there­by all but for­get­ting about the instru­men­tals, the instru­men­tals fal­ter when­ev­er the vocals appear. In fact, In Prism falls into a slump after “Beggar’s Bowl,” leav­ing the lis­ten­er with sev­er­al unsat­is­fy­ing tracks as it grad­u­al­ly regains ener­gy (and sub­dues the vocals) in an attempt to col­lect itself.

In short, In Prism is not a strong album, regard­less of some strong tracks and cre­ative sec­tions. As the gen­er­al­ly quite potent instru­men­tals com­bine with the com­plete­ly inad­e­quate vocals and for­get­table lyrics, the album steadi­ly wors­ens, forc­ing any lis­ten­er to con­sid­er what would have result­ed if Pol­vo has focused its ener­gy on cre­at­ing an entire­ly instru­men­tal album. In Prism is a promis­ing, but lack­ing album.

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3 Responses

  1. Max Cherry says:

    Can’t help but feel you missed the point of what is an utter­ly fan­tas­tic album. 53 is ludi­crous for this.

  2. tbozzio says:

    I too feel that you have entire­ly missed the point. It’s the best release that I’ve lis­tened to this far into 2009.

  3. tbozzio says:

    Also, I see that Moby’s new offer­ing has gar­nered a 96/100. Moby?

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