Album Reviews

Pontiak – Echo Ono

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 20 February 2012

With digital technology making recording and distributing music something of a doddle these days, it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of bands are revisiting analogue techniques in order to grant their music a more organic feel. Apart from the warmer sound that can be achieved with analogue equipment, there’s a psychology at play too that brings the notion of authenticity to the fore.

Leaving that particular minefield to one side (the war twixt authenticity and the new fangled future is already strewn with far too many carcasses), the usage of old analogue mixing desks and close attention to acoustic detail are the key to Pontiak’s latest offering. They proudly proclaim that no distortion pedals were used in the making of Echo Ono, yet this is an album swamped in the giddy highs that only volume and amps pushed to breaking points can provide. It is an impressive feat.

Essentially Echo Ono is an exploration into the past sounds of thundering American Rock, using a super-charged Trans-Am (analogue Flux Capacitor, naturally) piloted by the brothers Carney (Van Carney – vocals/guitar, Jennings Carney – bass/keyboards, and Lain Carney – drums).

Kicking off with Lions Of Least it would be easy to assume that Echo Ono is going to be an homage to Garage Rock. A raucous, barely contained guitar riff tears into life and Pontiak are off and rolling in a blur of amped-up R’n’B that has its roots in the back catalogues of MC5 and The Stooges. Only the brief respite found in a short lived keyboard bridge hints at what follows, but surrounded by a sonic onslaught this ferocious, it seems little more than a lamb to the slaughter.

The North Coast is initially a somewhat calmer affair and finds Van Carney “standing on the North coast looking west”. This line in particular hints at a distinct West Coast influence that begins to seep into the band’s sound as the album progresses. In its initial stages however, there’s no time for sweet diversions, just primal slabs of riffs and rumbling drum workouts. Similarly, any stoner who doesn’t find themselves reaching for the roaches with one hand and tightening their headband with the other when the groove of Left With Lights establishes itself needs to think long and hard about the direction their life is taking.

The mid-section of the album feels like a diversion through a leafy suburb compared to the ’70s Metal bombast of the opening few blasts. Across The Steppe is propelled by a driving backbeat and guitar chug, but finds time to elaborate with delicate natural guitar lines to soften things up somewhat. The Expanding Sky goes one further and dispatches with the overdrive completely relying on Van Carney’s vocal harmonies and a lilting guitar figure. It’s a laidback moonlit drive along the coast rather than a ramraid at CBGBs. Silver Shadow indulges in a little psychedelic folk rock with its acoustic guitars taking on almost elasticated properties as they try to push back towards noisier territory. Stay Out, What A Sight possesses a similar tone – although it is hazy and laid back, there’s something brutal lurking beneath the gentle resonance of the guitars and those drawled vocals.

With Royal Colours that brutality finally breaks free. It starts life as a psychedelic swirl of feedback and hesitant drumming before bursting into a cacophonous doom laden riff and a squalling guitar solo. It’s like a dam bursting. Or more accurately, it’s like a dam being bombed. From Royal Colours stoner-groove Panoptica positively explodes in a frenzy of drums, screaming guitar noise and pounding bass. Not so much a song as an apparently improvised wall of noise, which eventually flickers and dies as the initial ball of energy is slowly burned through. It is the perfect end to a well crafted album that takes a fascinating journey through the history of American rock music, geography and pharmaceuticals.

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More on Pontiak
Pontiak – Innocence
Pontiak – Echo Ono
Pontiak – Living