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Polvo: Today’s Active Lifestyles (1993)

April 4, 2013

polvo

Roll: 4-12-6
Album: Polvo, Today’s Active Lifestyles

In some ways Polvo‘s second album, Today’s Active Lifestyles, is the quintessential ’90s record by the quintessential ’90s band.

  • Punk attitude? Check.
  • Self-consciously artsy? Check.
  • Influenced by bands like Television and Sonic YouthCheck.
  • Overly ambitious, pretentiously intricate song arrangements? Check.
  • Yet sloppy? Check.
  • Intentionally sloppy? Possibly.
  • Or just lazy? Possibly.
  • Contrived laziness? Probably.
  • Snarky references to modern society/culture? Check.
  • Kind of shitty artwork? Check.
  • Intentionally kind of shitty artwork? Probably.
  • Seemingly self-sabotaging so as not to become successful and “sell-out” like Television and Sonic Youth? The jury’s out.
  • One of the last truly progressive rock records before rock became caught in a hopeless, derivative artistic tailspin? Check.

At least, all those things applied to myself personally in 1994, when I was listening to Celebrate The New Dark Age, Icky Mettle and Tossing Seeds on repeat. Except for the words “overly ambitious”. Those words did not apply to me. Unless you consider watching Natural Born Killers, Clerks and Jurassic Park over and over again in the attic room of my parents’ house overly ambitious.

Like the typical protagonist in some Kevin Smith movie, I’d gotten spectacularly dumped and moved back home. I’m not sure what came first—the slacker or the slacker music—but coinciding with my failure to thrive, I’d returned to the nest with a stack of CDs and videos that made me feel pretty good about my situation. True, I hadn’t made a hit cult film about my underachieving existence, or written a book about it, or was even in band singing about it. But it was all OK. Failure was the new success. Lazy was the new effort. Beating your time on a complete run-through of Sonic The Hedgehog was the new honing your craft.

Of course, once I’d beaten Sonic a few times, I decided I needed to start a band to sing about the banality of late-20th Century life. Not enough people were already doing it. I had a completely unique cynical perspective that carefully emulated the cynical perspectives found in the Merge Records catalogue as closely as possible. Surely this would be of interest to slackers everywhere since slackers everywhere were already listening to bands like Polvo.

Well, maybe not Polvo. Polvo were considered a bit weird even by weirdos. Were they a math-rock band? There seemed to be a lot of changes and cues that would require a lot of counting but… weren’t math bands supposed to be tight? They were sloppy like a garage band but they weren’t punk—too many of those weird math rhythms. They didn’t really write noise-pop hooks like Superchunk or Archers of Loaf did (except maybe their classic single “Can I Ride“). Ash Bowie might have been a poet like Lou Barlow or Stephen Malkmus but you couldn’t really ever hear his vocals. Kind of like a shoegaze band, but totally not a shoegaze band—too angular, not hazy enough.

Art-rock? Post-rock? Post-art-rock? Post-everything, post-nothing…

Whatever they were, you could just tell they were—even in the “alternative rock” heyday of the mid 1990’s—doomed to underachievement. Praised by critics, musicians and record store clerks but ignored by everyone else. This appealed to me greatly. If a band this original, this artistically fearless, this amazing weren’t going to “make it” than it was okay for me to fail too.

Still, while my band’s practices quickly became a cursory once-through the set list (fuck it, good enough, who cares?) and then sitting around telling lies about our girlfriends, another part of me I was convinced our home-dubbed tape was going to rocket us into a record deal (on an indie, of course. We wouldn’t “sell out” to a major, no way). And this would happen, you know, without touring or playing more than a handful of  local shows or really trying at all. I believe psychologists would call that cognitive dissonance.

But, whatever. If even a band like Polvo can fail, then it was all going to be okay.

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