Best known as a college radio station staple over a decade ago, Polvo returns with its new album, In Prism—their first in 12 years—with hopes of revisiting the off-rock heyday of the 1990s. Their fleeting presence may have been a result of their inconsistent sound across albums, from a psychedelic Exploded Drawing in 1996 to a more classic rock-inspired release with 1997’s Shapes, their curtain call until now.
In Prism witnesses yet another change in direction, almost altogether ignoring their last album while harnessing the psychedelic exploration of Exploded Drawing into an attentive, purposeful sound. It is the recording quality of the album—produced by fellow North Carolinian Brian Paulson, who has worked with other Merge and N.C. legends—that makes the most noticeable difference, a vast improvement over the lo-fi techniques of Polvo’s DIY past.
Guitarists/vocalists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski return as the underrated, guitar-virtuoso frontmen—their vocals an afterthought to their mathematical riffs. Opener “Right the Relation” is reminiscent of their past strengths, followed by “D.C. Trails,” a more straightforward but still strong track. Lead single “Beggar’s Bowl,” an odd equation of post-punk and classic-rock, is as good of an offering as any to the new generation of students unaware of the “math-rock” that these four nerds from North Carolina helped pioneer. Although it sounds like a Polvo record all along, it isn’t until the lengthy “Lucia” when In Prism begins to remind fans of the reason they were so passionate about the band to begin with: in their complex music, listeners could forget the pressures of college.
As the album closes with the heavy “A Link in the Chain,” it feels like an encore more than anything else. They’ve already earned their applause.