It’s been a banner week or so for North Carolina indie-rock. First, on February 20th, the Archers of Loaf — one of the Nineties’ finest bands in any genre — released their first new song in 22 years, “Raleigh Days.” It’s a loving evocation of their local scene back in its heyday, set to the kind of sweet, searing guitar clamor the Archers always did so well. Welcome back, Loaf.
A few days later, two excellent artifacts from the bygone era the Archers sing about got cool vinyl reissues: 1992’s Cor-Crane Secret and 1993’s Today’s Active Lifestyles, both by the great Chapel Hill guitar surrealists Polvo. Even compared to math-rock peers like Slint or Rodan, these guys were uniquely inventive in their pursuit of opaque epiphany, filling their albums with music that was excitingly wide-open, more shapeshifting than sharp-edged, refusing to stay in focus even when the band was rocking out. The reissues look fantastic (the swirly multi-colored vinyl is a perfect visual metaphor for the band’s sound), and they sound great.
As bands who didn’t care about normal song-form went, Polvo made Seam like look Superchunk. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t wander their way into a tuneful banger now and again. Take “Channel Changer,” from Cor-Crane Secret. It’s a love song, albeit a strange one. Singer-guitarist Ash Bowie mumbles about wanting you to hang around his place so bad he’ll even go get the channel changer off the stereo and pick it up and put on your favorite show: “I’ll promise to watch if it if you promise not to go,” he sings, sounding at once dreamy and needy as the music slides around and chugs and twists and takes off and the guitars distractedly buzz like stoned mosquitoes. What emerges is a vague-yet-vérité version of relationship ambiguity that feels at once weird and true, embodying the world of a band whose songs always seemed to be beautifully coming and going at the same time, slipping into something and out of something else (as the Feelies once sang), making indecision feel idealistic.
Polvo wound down in the late Nineties, but they got back together for 2009’s excellent, somewhat heavier In Prism and 2013’s Siberia — records which brought out a languid Southern choogle that always played around under the shifting surface of their sound. These new reissues are a great excuse to go back and channel-surf through their whole catalog.