PONTIAK Living (Thrill Jockey)

One of the things I have a particular fondness for are well-crafted albums meant to be heard in sequence, especially in the age of the MP3. That would explain why my interest  piqued when I received the press release for Living, the fifth record in two years by Virginia-based Pontiak, which promised “a record meant to be heard in sequence in its entirety”.

Of course, fancifully written press releases are one thing; well-written songs are another, and in that regard the three brothers Carney of Pontiak hold up rather well. At first listen the music befits the Southern origins of the record, and is consistent with their previous releases: bass-heavy, fuzzed-out psychedelia that is as Jesus and Mary Chain as it is Hawkwind.

On closer inspection, though, Living packs a heavier and noticeably more textural punch than Pontiak’s previous record, Maker—the result, perhaps, of a longer recording period. While previously the band favoured a one-take recording approach at the home studio they built at their farmhouse (bonus indie points there), they opted instead to spend four months fine-tuning the record, as well as inviting Isaiah Mitchell, guitarist for San Diego band Earthless, to drop in and contribute a few guitar licks.

The result is a cohesive album that fits the marijuana-fueled hypnotism of stoner rock into well-composed songs with a real pop discipline and still leaves space for relentless bouts of neckache-inducing headbangable jamming. You can hear it straight away in the opening track, Young, which lays down a sticky groove of chunky bass and chugging guitars. Vocals on this record are sparsely distributed—harmonies and melodies meant only to complement the playing. Even more conventional songs, like third track Algiers By Day, focus more sonic exploration than lyrical content.

No matter, because the most captivating moments on the record come when the band showcase their spacier side and push the sonic boundaries of their studio and instruments, such as the three-track sequence of Second Sun-Beach-Lemon Lady. At the heart of this record is the tension between pop-structured, dusty chugging riffs and spacier, dreamy exploration, a tension that makes it captivating. This is a record that allows for space to breathe, and what it breathes is fire.

(Samuel C Wee)


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