The nice thing about being part of a small genre is that reunions are often as low-stakes as starting the band in the first place. It's not like they had to run the numbers to see if a big tour would be financially worth the effort. From I gather from the liner notes, they went on hiatus to devote more time to families and life stuff, played a few shows over the years on special occasions, and then started jamming during the pandemic and thought "this is nice". No big engineered comeback, it seems like it was just a good time to unpause, and here we are with the first Pollo Del Mar record since the oughts.
Speed of Dark does feel like a refreshed version of the band, though. I think it has a distinctly different feel than where they (officially) left off with their 2004 LP The Golden State. And why wouldn't it? Not only has Ferenc Dobronyi been evolving as a guitarist in Frankie and the Poolboys (a light-hearted spin-off from PDM that I think eventually became very full-hearted), but there was a lot of time between 2004 and their 2012 hiatus for the band to evolve as well, and sure enough some of these tracks were written during that span.
But to me it sounds significantly less, well, surf. A lot of their previous works had a big reverby room sound -- not necessarily just on guitar, but the whole thing sounded underwater. The easiest comparison is Mermen. This feels like instrumental pop psych. We've moved from the coast and we're in the meadow. And I like it here. It feels especially strident and loud, bursting with energy and color. I don't know if this was a conscious shift or the benefit of the great shift in quality studio accessibility over the past two decades, but there's little left to be desired here when you've got it cranked up loud on your turntable on a sunny day.
This goes for the songwriting as well. I probably hear more psych, blues-rock, and general guitar god moanin' on this than I would on a surf record, which frankly might make me quit reading this review if I hadn't written it, but it never falls into the trap of self-indulgence. In the liner notes for the song "Wabi Sabi" Ferenc says "It's easy to get into a jam, coming out is a whole 'nother story". Many wouldn't try, and that's what makes this still very enjoyable to a surf fan. I do wonder if Frankie and the Poolboys, which I assume still exists, has sort of reserved for itself a lot of the surf sensibilities present on earlier PDM records, and this is an outlet for the et cetera that didn't fit in there. Whatever the case may be, these songs are constantly moving and full of power, gliding easily from song to song.
I don't want to go too much into each song because, well, I think the included liner notes say much more interesting things than I would. What is kind of interesting to me is that while six of these songs came from a creative burst from Ferenc, some of them were sort of reupholstered scraps from before. "Sifaka" is a cover of The Pyronauts that they often played on tour, "The Golden State" (despite sharing a title with a previous release) was reworked from Frankie and the Poolboys... and yet this very much feels like a cohesive record with a vision and purpose.
It's streaming on bandcamp and on vinyl. I have the latter and I'd recommend it for the extended reading inside. And because it looks nice. And sounds nice. It's all very nice.