Show me something round and I'll analyze the form
If you want to read about the playoffs, see the good Doctor.
However, today marks an event of much greater importance to FreeDarko's history than any playoff game: Polvo is playing their first show in a decade tonight in D.C. at the Black Cat. Polvo's connection to basketball is tenuous at best, but guitarist Dave Brylawski did write a song about UNC's loss in the 1995 Final Four and once wore a satin Charlotte Hornets jacket in a promo picture (see below). Although no one knew it at the time, FreeDarko was born from the same Chapel Hill soil that birthed Polvo, when much younger and sprier versions of Shoals and the Recluse met through a mutual friend, playing basketball on the hoop that used to hang behind Cat's Cradle. Their shared obsession with Polvo is one of the many extra-basketballular interests that informs the unique worldview that is FreeDarko.
Bethlehem Shoals: I had a bunch of those jazz tees at one point. I'm not ashamed. Remember, that was around the time every indie rocker decided he liked his dad's Monk records, so I was at once violated and ahead of the curve. If I remember correctly, Polvo always insisted they they could give a fuck less about jazz, which made my life very confusing. Though like I said, I don't think they cared much about improv, and you know what--there's something a lot more powerful about a fully-orchestrated pop song that's full of clanging and drones and shifts than the way that Sonic Youth or MBV have that drift off into the great unknown of FREEDOM. Polvo were incredibly neurotic almost, like the way "Be My Baby" can somehow still be a plaintive pop song despite the whole world ending in the background. Of course, when that overwhelmed them, the second half of their career happened, and they sucked. Same with "River Deep, Mountain High."
Recluse: I can't argue with any of that.
Shoals: One other thing I've been thinking about this morning: how raw and concrete their best stuff is, both emotionally and musically. That's why I never got the "math rock" thing, since all that shit is based on gee-whiz musicianship. Or the Sonic Youth comparison, since in an all truth, even the best SY is one big affectation. And while Sonic Youth returned to the riff as if to mock it, or smugly reconstruct it from drone and atmosphere, Polvo is just some incredibly fucked-up and disjointed rock music. Even Corcrane Secret—I'd never call that record vague or self-indulgent. It's what drug music should sound like, if there were no such thing as drug culture (yes, I know, the band refused to ever talk about drugs and truthfully just looked to really like beer).
Yesterday when I frantically busted out Celebrate the New Dark Age in the car, my girl tried to ruin my day by telling me it sounded like the first Modest Mouse. I mean, I guess, but there the music is totally at the mercy of emotion. Which turns emotion into a handicap, neuters the power of song, and is what's wrong with so many kids today. Polvo was like "on some level we are all very dark, eerie, and weird people, but that's sublimated into this armada of gnarled songcraft for all of you to enjoy—or be terrified by." I can't tell if it's a superior form of communication or even more stand-offish. Still, there's no vulnerability, or the need for adjectives like "haunting" or "evocative". Nor any division of blood and steel, as there totally was from This Eclipse on.
And not to bring this too full circle, but it's strange that Polvo was one of the least pretentious indie bands of its era, and yet made the most ridiculously out-there music. Or that the guys in the band were almost disdainful of the scenester aspect of, well, that scene, and just looked like they wanted to party and watch tv. A friend of mine can attest to Dave's encyclopedic knowledge of Texas high school football. Shaq (supposedly) once went to one of their shows. That was the big question: How did these guys end up making this music? If you look at their post-Polvo projects. . . it's hard to figure out exactly how the band happened.
Recluse: I don't know, if you add Black Taj ("classic" guitar rock), Idyll Swords (mostly acoustic music informed by a variety of ethnic folk music), and Libraness (creepy, weirdly tuned guitar stuff) together, the result is not too far off from Polvo. But, you're right that it was the unlikely combination of these disparate sounds that made them so unique and so great.
Shoals: I sold my copy of Libraness long ago, but there are about 3 songs on there that belong in canon. Some might be from the same era, but have really bad lyrics--actually, the main thing for me that makes This Eclipse the cut-off point.
Recluse: Polvo's lyrics are amazingly inconsistent. Some of them are actually pretty good, but a lot of them are embarrassingly bad. "Fast Canoe," a song I think is brilliant musically, has the worst lyrics ever. I saw them play twice right before Exploded Drawing came out and thought at the time that that song was an instant classic.
Shoals: I was just watching a video for that. Brought back memories of throwing on Exploded Drawing for the first time, and being ecstatic that they'd returned to form. . . until the vocals came in.
It's really hard to know what to make of the first two records' lyrics. Corcrane has a ton of really goofy, straightforward-seeming stuff that actually makes no sense. Like a robot tried to pen a rock anthem. Or the devil is pushing a power-pop song uphill. I have no idea if Today's Active Lifestyles is deliberately obscured--it's certainly the one with the most buried vocals--but everything about album is so cryptic, I don't think I'd be able to judge the lyrics any better if I could make them all out. As is, it's a bunch of random words that in my mind connect to the (completely impenetrable) titles. At least Loveless is all about feeling good and love and sleep. I have absolutely no idea what the topical reference point for any Polvo is—like what world do they even write about—so when you can't even understand the abstract words, it's kind of a lost cause.
One day, as a thought experiment, I tried to listen to Polvo pretending these were all songs about relationships. It was a really harrowing experience.
Recluse: I don't want to freak you out, but I think most of their lyrics are about relationships.
Shoals: I just realized that I only saw Polvo twice. Right after Active Lifestyles came out. I think they were opening for Superchunk or Archers. I was 16 and had never heard them before. My whole life stopped right there. I SHOULD HAVE been at the big Celebrate show at the Cradle--which, oddly, had a David Murray concert at the ArtCenter earlier in the evening--but I was grounded because I took too much acid and had to go to the emergency room.
Then, I saw them right before This Eclipse came out, and it sucked. That was when my friend Ben started yelling my slogan "Stop the Homeless" at stages, mostly to see how it would be interpreted. Dave flipped out on him.
Recluse: I probably saw them 7 or 8 times when I was in college. Even though Ash was probably most responsible for their sound, Dave was really the focal point live, making goofy guitar god faces and doing almost all of the stage banter, which often included references to UNC basketball and the Lakers.
That This Eclipse show was the second time I saw them and was definitely disappointing and widely (and controversially) panned.
The first time I saw them, I got to interview them before the show for the DTH with two other people, but I only asked one question. If I remember it right, they were pretty awesome that night. All of the times I saw them were post-Celebrate, so the band could be kind of hit or miss. When they were on, though, they were one of the best live bands in the world. But, I like This Eclipse and Exploded Drawing more than you do.
So, you didn't go to their Mergefest show in 1994? When they played "Fly Like an Eagle"? I have friends that talked about that show for years afterwards.
Shoals: That Mergefest show was the one I missed. I'm trying to remember if I somehow talked my parents into letting me go to the David Murray thing, saw the crowds outside and wept, or just drove by on my way back from someone's house or something? Actually, I was grounded 4 life, so I have no idea why I was out. Also I can't imagine that, if I'd been there, I wouldn't have just defied everything and snuck in. Maybe I was returning a movie at VisArt?
I think part of the reason Polvo guts me so is that, for a variety of reasons, I have very little memory of anything that's happened to me, ever. So--like some weird patient in a movie about disabilities and revelation—they're just a stand-in for several formative years of my life. Though I'm not quite sure how I can say Polvo's music itself was "formative." What kind of person would that make? Then again.. . .
Looking over YouTube, there are some 1996 clips, including a "Holy Shroud" with a Dave guitar solo. That's pretty much how I feel about that band from This Eclipse on. However, there's a 1993 “Kalgon/Bend or Break” that is positively unreal. Like some dude with a Polvo review site says, it's amazing how perfectly they recreated all the records' chaos live. When you go to see Sonic Youth, they definitely see lots of their songs as open-ended, come-what-may noise. Nope, not Polvo. [Insert Asian music analogy here]
Recluse: Have you ever considered how perfect Ash Bowie's physical appearance is for Polvo? He looks vaguely Asian and also drugged out and creepy. When you talk about them looking like beer-drinking sports fans, that's really just Dave and to some extent Steve Popson. Ash looked like a tortured artist.
Shoals: I was wondering earlier if you didn't like Polvo a lot because of the Dave/Ash duo. Like if you combined the two of them, you'd get you or something.
I think that because of Ash's looks, and him being the mysterious singer, he was sort of their figurehead. But they also always insisted that Dave, not Ash, was responsible for the Asian influence.
It's also weird that, for me, this band is totally bound up in high school introspection. I used to think that if I wanted to destroy the world through sheer aesthetics, Polvo would be the perfect weapon. Whereas since you were in college, I'd imagine you were more attuned to the fact that they were just really fucking rad. Maybe I'm also thinking about the fact that Ted T. took me and Jacob C. to that first show. I can barely remember. Anyway, afterward, Jacob and I were both completely reeling, and Ted said something like "yeah, they're pretty cool."
Recluse: You know, this post has almost nothing to the NBA, but it cuts to the very heart of FreeDarko-ness. And now hopefully Dr. LIC will understand why POLVO IS NOT A MATH ROCK BAND.