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Pontiak, Sun On Sun

Album Review


Published September 10, 2008 at 5:02 a.m.


(Thrill Jockey Records, CD)

From Virginia’s Blue Ridge region comes a musical curiosity of mind- and genre-bending proportions. Depending on your personal proclivities, you might identify this trio as either a narcotic stoner band or raunchy Southern rock. And in both cases you’d be right. Pontiak’s latest seven-song effort, Sun on Sun, released on Chicago indie vanguard Thrill Jockey Records, is a swirling maelstrom of sinister psychedelia fueled by monstrous guitar riffery and stark, Lizard King-esque lyricism.

Droning head-bobber “Shell Skull” is the first heady shot fired across the bow. Brothers Van (guitar, vocals), Lain (drums, vocals) and Jennings Carney (bass, organ, vocals) unleash a slow-burning torrent of dirty guitars and reverb-washed vocals propelled by a hypnotically driving bass line. In fact, I accidentally had my CD player on repeat and listened to the tune about four times in succession before I realized it wasn’t one epic jam. And I was totally OK with that. Though I kinda wished I was high, even though I don’t partake.

The following “Swell” might please ambient drone and “other music” crowds. The rest of us might find it more a fitting interlude to “White Hands.” The tune begins with an escalating, rapid-fire guitar and drum riff before exploding into another head-nodding churner. Oh, sweet release.

“White Mice” is a schizophrenic marvel. And in Pontiak’s case, that’s actually a good thing. The near 7-minute-long tune undergoes a series of metamorphoses that would make Kafka blush.

The disc’s title track is a centerpiece, combining stylistic and foundational elements from the preceding tunes to form a 9-minute psychedelic opus. I don’t know if you could sync the tune to The Wizard of Oz, but it might be fun to try.

“Tell Me About” is the album’s most accessible cut. It’s also the easiest to pin down as the descendant of Doors-inspired bacchanalia — at least for the first three minutes or so. Van Carney pulls an eerie Morrison impression, and brother Jenning’s organ work has shades of Manzarek.

Album closer “The Brush Burned Fast” is an oddity in an album teeming with them. It’s a beautiful, sparse acoustic ballad. Here, vocalist Van evokes echoes of fellow Southern rock alchemist Jim James. The song finishes with a swirl of ghostly, metallic whispers. It’s a fitting end to a trippy ride.

Pontiak is currently touring with Thrill Jockey labelmates Arbouretum in support of a split record of John Cale covers and Cale-inspired originals, entitled Kale. They make a secret, wink-wink Burlington stop Wednesday, September 10. I can’t tell you where it is, but our good friends at Tick Tick might. Just sayin’ . . .