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by: Pontiak

Album Artwork

(Thrill Jockey)

A power trio of different sort, Pontiak is composed of three Virginia brothers from Blue Ridge Mountains.  Van, Lain, and Jennings Carney initially connected to Baltimore's growing scene as they got their start there.  They are still associated with Baltimore bands, including Arbouretum with whom they shared a spllt release LP.  Like the Charlottesville-based Old Calf, whose leader Ned Oldham also fronted Baltimore's Anomoanon, the Carney brothers soon retreated to the Virginia countryside.  In Pontiak's case, it was their family farm.

Pontiak records all of its records at a home studio on their family farm.  Lain Carney explained in a 2008 interview:

Ah, man, I love that studio. It's in Jennings' house and it kind of moves between his living room and a back room that he has using Pro Tools along the way. The two rooms sound completely different from each other.... Currently that's where we do all of our recording. I think that, for me, being out there turns up the focus level.

This true "band of brothers" has an extremely unique sound.  Consider them heavy without the metal, often evoking Roger Waters' moodier moments with Pink Floyd.  They use sonic techniques like slide bass just to give one example of their experimentation.  Even though they have a rock sound, they also know how to embody a groove.  Their unspoken communication that only brothers can share was explained by Jennings Carney back in 2009:

We've had a collective 60-plus years of learning how to talk to each other - there really isn't any bullshit. We've learned how to say "I like this," "I don't like that." Maybe it's just a luxury I'm taking for granted, but maybe with people you're not related to, you might not be as frank. We've known each other for so long, I don't even think about it, actually. My brothers are also my best friends, that's just the way it's always been.

With their ease of communication, their close living arrangement, and their home studio, Pontiak has been prolific.  Since 2006, they have released five albums and the aformentioned split LP with Arbouretum.  This year's Pontiak offering is Comecrudos, a 25 minute recording that falls somewhere between an EP and album.  Its length and number of tracks suggest an EP, but the songs - titled only Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV - represent a unified musical statement.  It all flows as one.

Pontiak's idea behind Comecrudos was to create a soundtrack for their drive that the brothers took between Phoenix and the Big Bend area of Texas which lies on the southern bulge of the western side of the state right on the Mexican border.  The Big Bend National Park is known for being the least visited in the United States due to its remoteness.  For the Carneys who live in an almost completely different environment in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the contrast must have been stark.

Like a film which emerges from darkness, Comecrudos slowly builds from silence.   The first vocals aren't heard until nearly 10 minutes into the record.  Those initial words sound more like statements or descripitions rather than typical singing.  The effect of this almost serves to distinguish between experience and thought.  The music attempts to describe the nature and surroundings while the vocals represent thoughts reflecting on what they are seeing around them.

The next vocals don't occur until minutes later, but now they are more insistent feeling as though they've traveled from the mind to the tongue.  All of this creates the effect of a growing tension and intensity.  By the time Comecrudos fades to black with a final organ note, you've had a complete experience.  This record is very simple, but incredibly textured.  It becomes true aural cinema.  

Like any rural/urban juxtaposing, the rural only seems quiet if one listens for sounds of honking horns or other city sounds.  By opening your "rural" ears, you can hear insects clicking, birds chirping, and breezes moving tree leaves.  The urban presents the sound of people and their inventions, and the rural presents the sound of nature.

On Comecrudos Pontiak accomplishes something rare. They create a sound like the power of weather.

- Jim Markel


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