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.