One of the most popular and accomplished bands in the arty, noisy indie rock offshoot dubbed math rock, Polvo touched on many of the genre's hallmarks: dissonant, intricately layered guitars that often employed alternate tunings; odd, off-kilter rhythms; an emphasis on dense sonic texture; and unorthodox song structures that, nonetheless, were often unconventionally melodic. Additionally, their music had a pronounced Eastern feel that came not only from the Indian and Middle Eastern-style drones in their compositions, but actual Asian instruments as well. The combination helped set them apart from other post-Sonic Youth/Slint guitar experimentalists.
Polvo formed in 1990 in Chapel Hill, NC, a college town that housed one of the more fertile and eclectic indie scenes of the '90s. The band's lineup consisted of vocalists/guitarists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski, bassist Steve Popson, and drummer Eddie Watkins. Bowie and Brylawski met in a Spanish class at the University of North Carolina, and discovered a mutual admiration for both the SST roster and the progressive end of the classic rock spectrum. Although an erratic live presence at first, the band earned a strong local following and released the seven-song double-7" Can I Ride on Kitchen Puff in 1991. (The record was later reissued as Polvo.) They subsequently signed with the Chapel Hill-based indie label Merge -- run by Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, a high-school classmate of Brylawski and Popson -- and issued their debut album, Cor-Crane Secret, in 1992. Reviews were mostly favorable, and -- propelled by tours with Superchunk and Babes in Toyland -- the band garnered a devoted cult audience that remained fairly steady throughout its existence. Today's Active Lifestyles followed in 1993, refining the group's approach, and it was followed in turn by two EPs, 1994's Celebrate the New Dark Age and 1995's This Eclipse.
Polvo subsequently switched to the Chicago-based Touch & Go label, which was more associated with challenging, noisy guitar rock than Merge. Their debut for the label was 1996's double-length Exploded Drawing, an eclectic, progressive effort that began to delve more explicitly into the guitarists' fascination with Asian musics. Drummer Watkins left the band afterward and was replaced by Brian Walsby. The rest of the group was beginning to drift apart as well; Brylawski moved to New York City to play with Asian musicians (and also traveled to India), while Bowie started dating Helium frontwoman Mary Timony and relocated to Boston to play bass with her band. Polvo reconvened in 1997 to record Shapes, and rumors that it would be their final album proved true when they amicably disbanded later that year.