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If the songs on Ames wandered through a variety of desolate landscapes, Polk is all of a piece. Granted, the second Tracker album does occupy the same general geographical region (not to mention the same shaggily resplendent musical headspace) as its predecessor, a woozily imagined West-of-wherever, as deserted and forbidding a place as it is open to possibilities, just waiting to be road-tested. But it also sketches the passing imagery with a photographic vibrancy at times lacking on the otherwise outstanding Ames, producing an even more enticing and textured album and rendering the experience of exploring it even more hypnotic. John Askew's songs -- no longer exactly parched and scruffy ghost towns, but every bit as delirious, sun-sapped, and caked in dust -- again do a gorgeous job of tracing the psychic pathways through a panorama where the horizon is always miles off in the distance, but he also adds a fresh sense of grandeur, employing a greater range of stylistic color and subtle shifts in tone and texture. There are still old-timey gestures -- brittle banjos, freak-show organs, noir tempos -- shot through songs like "Nova, Pt. 1" and its sequel "Bodyhead," and the magnificent "The Swimmer." And Tracker's penchant for brewing intoxicating sound paintings is more potent than ever, as on the instrumental "Somber Reptiles," a remarkable haze of pedal steel, reverb, acidic guitar brushstrokes, sky-wide bass, and drumming like hot gusts of wind. But there is also a Mercury Rev-like majesty to Polk, especially evident in songs like "Distance Is the Sun" and "Chemistry," a brightness constructed out of the bleakness and emboldened with optimistic xylophones, pianos, and feedback. Even in its most forlorn moments, it is an unstintingly lovely trip.

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