Arbouretum/Pontiak – Kale Split 12″ LP (Thrill Jockey)

Arbouretum & Pontiak play the Talking Head this Friday, Sept 5 with Psychic Paramount and Sri Aurobindo. Not to be missed.

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MP3: Pontiak – Dome under the sky

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MP3: Arbouretum – Buffalo Ballet

John Cale is the highly prolific co-founder of a little band called the Velvet Underground. There is no shortage of love for his work, but this masterful EP collaboration of Arbouretum and Pontiak may be the best expression of it.

Arbouretum and Pontiak are both highly respected and talented groups of rockers steeped in folk, psych and garage rock traditions. Arbouretum works in a bit more of a meta, grander scale working more in the realms of folk and an almost supernatural force while Pontiak explores a more micro level, bringing the visceral crunchier psych jams and freak-outs.

“Time Doesn’t Lie” starts off as a subtle and gorgeously simple folk song, the entire band yielding to Heumann’s soaring and ominous vocals. But somewhere mid-song, Heumann’s vocals change key and the song slides into a bridge leading headlong into a muscular firestorm of explosive and grandiose guitar pyrotechnics atop a kinetic bass line and unflinching drum work. “Flood of Floods” truly ebbs and flows like the tides, and gradually rises until it overtakes you with a powerful rising guitar surge; though unlike “Time,” “Flood” is true to its namesake and doesn’t self-destruct, opting instead to gradually recede.

The two Arbouretum originals showcase their style and are among their best songs. Arbouretum serves more often than not as a vehicle for a single musical voice to soar, whether it’s Dave Heumann’s hauntingly soulful voice or a sensational, psychedelia-infused guitar solo catharsis freak-out. Their music builds like a thunderstorm, starting from the smallest droplets of water forming into clouds. And deliberately building energy and tension poco a poco with sections of folk and garage rock, growing into thunderously roaring guitar solos. Taking their time, but never losing momentum, they always captivate.

Arbouretum’s sole Cale cover, “Buffalo Ballet,” is in many ways a stark stylistic contrast to their own material. A stripped-down take of Cale’s big, piano-driven ballad. Taking the song down to it’s essence, a romantic ode, and reluctant farewell, to bygone days and lifestyles, Arbouretum create an epic reinterpretation of Cale’s classic track. Heumann’s wistful vocals, the lingering guitar lines, and the easy, gentle attack on bass and drums, you can feel the past slipping regrettably yet inevitably away, fading into the haze of the horizon.

Pontiak’s side of the LP hits with a distinct blow from Arbouretum’s, blasting you with a simple yet grand, grungy metal riff, like walking through the deepest night and opening a door to a room bathed in floodlights and lung-searing smoke. Just as your eyes (or in this case, ears) adjust, they pull the bottom out, shutting off the lights and plunging you back into the darkness of night, paring the riff down to a sparsely plucked, two-note guitar/bass heartbeat. Just as you think it might die, the drums come back in and tug the strings along, electrifying them and switching the floodlights back on, letting you bask for a glorious two minutes in blues and psych riffage before letting you down slowly and easily. “Green Pool” similarly swirls with psychedelic and blues rock power, turning into some sort of demented musical kaleidoscope, reflections of sound scattered by reverb and distortion.

“Mr Wilson,” one of Pontiak’s John Cale covers, finds the boys treading in unusual but no less compelling ground. They do everything a band should do on a cover, putting their distinctive stamp on the song. Adding a tasteful amount of reverb and taking the relatively high-register vocals into a slightly raw, unstable and lilting range. The result is in many ways a more visceral track than the original.

“The Endless Plain of Fortune” is the other of Pontiak’s two Cale covers. Their interpretation largely dumps the lushly orchestrated prog-folk epic sound of the original. They lead with a more muscular and down-tempo, Southern psych feel, bringing one to the brink of minor key desolation and really inhabiting that “endless plain,” just in a different, less eerie context than Cale. But suddenly, as the backing drone really begins to mesmerize you, there is a stark shift in sound, completely dropping the effects on the guitar and providing a more galloping pace and acoustic sound. The vocals are similar in spirit to the Cale original, and mostly convey the mood of haunting reflection and reminiscence, if a little light in the haunting area. Really, the only oddly fitting piece in the album, the psych-infused jam mid-song, feels disjointed and nowhere near as effective as the original’s soaring prog jam passage.

Nonetheless, despite this slight falter, the album as a whole easily stands as one of the best efforts I’ve heard all year, and is sure to get some major grooves ground in by my player. As an added bonus, Thrill Jockey also provides a free high-quality MP3 download along with the vinyl-only release. There’s no reason not to buy this.

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One Response to “Arbouretum/Pontiak – Kale Split 12″ LP (Thrill Jockey)”

  1. [...] We will begin our fall tour tonight at the Talking Head in Baltimore with our buds Arbouretum!! Also on the bill will be the most excellent Psychic Paramount and Sri Aurobindo. In the meantime, read and excellent Review of Arbouretum & Pontiak – Kale Split LP at Aural States. [...]

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