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Polvo charts a strange course somewhere between thoughtful artiness and ultraslacker nonchalance. Their last full-length record, Today's Active Lifestyles, demonstrated the quartet's fondness for unusual guitar tunings, odd song structures, faux-ethnic instrumentals, cryptic obscurity, and, alas, fashionable indie-rock sloppiness. Some catchy tunes popped up here and there, but the band seemed to savor subverting them rather than accentuating them. On the other hand, their new seven-song EP on Merge, Celebrate the New Dark Age, is a thoroughly scintillating convergence of pop smarts and unconventional technique. A consistently high level of song craft now underpins the band's eccentric musical inclinations: "City Spirit," with its wistful melody and tremolo-laden guitar chords, sounds like a long-lost Electric Prunes number, and "Tragic Carpet Ride" throws a propulsive, potent hook under a guitar howl that's like a swarm of killer bees attacking an electric harp. The band vents its penchant for instrumentals on "Old Lystra," which somehow manages to merge the Ventures and Sonic Youth in a way that would probably please fans of both. Hook-filled and accessible yet with nothing rendered in conventional tonality or verse-chorus-verse formula, Celebrate the New Dark Age suggests that Polvo is poised to deliver a potentially monumental full-length record. They open with Scrawl (covered in this week's Spot Check) for Superchunk (see separate Critic's Choice). Friday, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 549-0203.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jason Summers.

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