Drenched in reverb, as though recorded in some distant wooded canyon, ex-Baltimoreans Pontiak follow up their hard-rocking psychedelic debut with another strong offering of much of the same. Which is problematic, because somehow this band sounds both all too familiar and equally difficult to describe. Stoner metal riffs that could have come off a Kyuss album are buried between, and sometimes subconsciously emerge from, more eerie and vaguely defined, druggy soundscapes. Luckily Ponitak pack enough twists and turns into a three-minute jam to keep you on your toes, never dragging their heels or resting their laurels on a single riff or sound (a habit some stoner rockers too easily settle into).
The band sounds more self-assured than on their debut, which sometimes means they sacrifice the lopsided, falling-out-of-nowhere melodies for less accidental (what I suppose one might call more mature) songcraft. Maker has an almost boastful strut to it, a traditional rock band’s answer to a group like Mastodon, perhaps. But never once does Pontiak sound mired in any one aspect of their craft, be it songwriting, guitar effects, or instrumental heroics–this winds up being a good thing. There are plenty of surprises to behold along the way, from the wandering song parts of “Wax Worship,” which takes three minutes to build from a noisy feedback-at-11 intro into some dirty blues riffs to the acoustic chill-out of “Seminal Shining.” Never exactly progressive, but never content to stick to 4/4 verse-chorus-verse, Pontiak throw in just enough outbursts and change ups to keep their sound from becoming monolithic or wearisome.
Certainly that’s not to say their rhythm section isn’t captivating on its own merit. The studio bells and whistles are few and far between, and there’s an earthy, almost forgotten, organic nature to their behemoth sound. At times dissonant, occasionally melodic, and always cavernous and gripping. I’m just suggesting that if you tire of the five-minute one-liners of Dead Meadow–to whom Pontiak are so often compared–you won’t have the same complaints about Maker. And if you’re especially tired of the overstimulation brought on by what will likely be referred to in the future as ADD rock, then I bet you’ll find a lot to enjoy.
The reason being that Pontiak don’t rest their laurels on riffs alone, with atmospherics and textures playing an equally important role. There isn’t quite a punk energy on some of the tracks (well, the noise freak-out of “Headless Conference” being close to an exception), so much as a groundswell of attacking rhythms. Seemingly picked up by blustery winds from some remote land and deposited on your doorstep along with the mass of debris they claimed along the way, be it blues, psychedelia, folk or whatever else lies between here and the backwoods Virginia location where the album was recorded.
Vocally, Van Carney sounds heavily indebted to Roger Waters, lacking the former’s penchant for sing-songy iambic tetrameter (which, if you haven’t noticed, is a subject worthy of study unto itself) and conceptually tiring extended metaphor. I’m not entirely certain what Carney is singing about and I haven’t seen a single article that’s paid his words any attention. To be fair, they’re difficult to pick out, but I think there’s a lot to do with creation and destruction and fittingly heavy subjects like knife fights. Regardless, the real aspect of this album to behold is the way the parts assemble and break apart, achieving something darkly compelling along the way.
I haven’t been lucky enough to catch their live show but I hear the walls of distortion put a real hurting on your eardrums. So if you love being pummeled by gnarly guitars as much as the next hooligan, do check them out if you get the opportunity.
Label: Thrill Jockey
Release date: April 7, 2009
02 Blood Pride
03 Wax Worship
04 Headless Conference
05 Wild Knife Night Fight
06 Heat Pleasure
09 Seminal Shining
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