Polvo-Today’s Active Lifestyles

June 5, 2009


Today’s Active Lifestyles (Merge 1993)


Throughout my college years, I despised the Grateful Dead. However, I was enthralled by the words used by my hippie friends when describing their music. I wanted to love a band whose music inspired others to enthuse about each rambling lick as if it were a sentient entity. They argued over which version of Dark Star flowed the best and I felt as if my collection of indie-rock and punk records just laid there like a dead fish in comparison to their heroes.

Thankfully, my hippie friends were a bit hipper than their drug rug wearing brethren and we shared a love of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Zappa, John Coltrane and Can. Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation was the one communal love that provided a forum where opposing sides could sing “kumbaya” and find an indie-rock parallel to the Dead that appeased us in the same manner. By no means am I lunkheaded enough to suggest one remotely sounds like the other, but Daydream Nation’s long, meandering riffs reminded us both of the controlled sprawl that made both bands so wonderful when they navigated their own respective mazes.

Years have passed and now I behave like a fucking Ratdog fan and listen to XM Radio’s Grateful Dead Channel for non-stop bootlegs and Pigpen anecdotes. What in the hell happened to me? As I aged, the Dead made sense once my life slowed down to a country trot and Jerry Garcia’s Run for the Roses album suddenly sounded like a stellar soundtrack to a lazy afternoon. Man, I guess this is all a long-winded way to telling y’all that I just really like music that is structured, but always on the verge of slowly falling apart.

The last phrase is why I somehow found that same strand in Polvo’s Today’s Active Lifestyles. It’s an album that tiptoes through the tulips. It has an urgency, but sometimes gets totally lost when expressing it. I regularly listen to instrumental passages over and over because they reveal additional nuances every time they unfurl. More importantly, Daydream Nation and Today’s Active Lifestyles remain special because they perfectly capture that magical vibe those hippies spoke of so reverently. I feel like I am getting all cosmic on your asses here, but that’s the kind of mood I am in at the moment.

It’s a shame that Polvo never quite recaptured the lackadaisical magic of Today’s Active Lifestyles. They were at their best here because they perfectly achieved a balance of loose and taut here. One guitar played a tightly wound punky riff while the other would play a loosey-goosey one that veered all over the road. This dynamic lends even their catchiest moments a ramshackle charm. For example, “Tilebreaker” is an anthemic pop song at its core, but they play it as if they were four wobbling hubcaps ready to fall off at any moment. However, “Time Isn’t on My Side” may be the best song they ever recorded even if it isn’t totally indicative of their other tunes. It is one of the few songs that captures the woozy ambience of Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbet except Chilton was actually trying to sound like red hot mess. This tune eclipses that since Polvo kind of couldn’t help but sound like a series of beautiful mistakes. Today’s Active Lifestyles is perfect because it sounds raw, unplanned and ecstatic. It’s the musical equivalent of the taking the scenic route home while speeding down every sudden turn and dusty road.

6 Responses to “Polvo-Today’s Active Lifestyles”

  1. bob Says:

    i love this album. it is good. you are so good. just the first minute on thermal treasure sends memories of cheap beer and coffee at Denny’s explode in my belly. this album is a bad daydream of indiana all over the place. you need to quit your life and post more. hope all is well.

  2. icastico Says:

    Thanks as always.

    Here’s one that you and your readers may enjoy.


  3. Sebastian Says:

    After TOL, I think Polvo became too self-aware (“We just bought a sitar, so be prepared”) to recapture the loose/taut combination you nail here. Exploded Drawing comes the closest, but too many of the songs exist solely to add to that ramshackle vibe.

  4. lovedog Says:

    sillypants the deadhead eh? im deeply troubled

    also whos this bob dude who likes polvo and went to iup?

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  6. David Says:

    You are perceptive, sir. Like the Dead and Sonic Youth, Polvo had a measure of greatness in them. I saw them play when I lived in Chapel Hill, but either they had an off night, or I was not yet ready for them. (Possibly a bit of both.) I didn’t hear their albums and realize just how good they were until after I left town. They were probably the best of a very strong bunch of bands there in the early 90’s. God, that was a good scene. I miss it.

    if you, or anybody out there, know of any Polvo live recordings, especially from the 90’s, I would be interested. I have a couple, but I know that there is more out there. I have a decent list of stuff I could trade.

    buscotica (at) yahoo.com

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