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Pontiak
Innocence Nick Hutchings , January 31st, 2014 06:50

If ever you needed an album to blow out the cobwebs then this is it. And if the self-consciously capitalised album title Innocence looks like its shouting, it certainly sounds like it too. The eponymous opener starts off with a Beaufort scale tipping squall of feedback, then lurches uncontrollably into Bleach era Nirvana, somewhere in the recess between 'School' and 'Negative Creep'. The sparse lyric "Wasted in the street. Corrupted and I leave" sets the scene that this innocence bolted long ago. And before you can shut the stable door or catch your breath, here gallops the primordial chaos of 'Lack Lustre Rush', the spirit of The Stooges '1969' crammed into a tin of Campbells' at Warhol's factory and spat out by Sleep after a session for Dopesmoker. There are further echoes of Cobain too with the casually tossed out "hey, yeahs" reminiscent of the refrains from that holiest of grunge grails 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. Yet this all smells like something totally fresh too.

The triptych of tunes that tear it up at the start of the album is completed by 'Ghosts' which begins like 'Cherub Rock' by Smashing Pumpkins on psychedelic loop and ends up like 'Good Times, Bad Times' by Led Zeppelin. But just when you think you've got this band of brothers from Virginia pegged, they whip out the rug from under your feet, with three more songs of a subtler bent. The pattern continues with three more furious songs and the album ends with one more reflective song, and one loud full stop. With this symmetry of sequencing it becomes obvious this is not just a collection of tunes, and they haven't just been thrown together over a pile of crumpled beer cans.

There is also a cohesion about the cover art for Innocence. The stark graphic design of the black stars sans stripes is adorned with a Jackson Pollock style paint splatter that recalls the cover of Ghost Rider by Suicide. And like that album, this one also contains incandescent primal rock & roll that's been put together with poise and great forethought. Pontiak are clearly students of rock & roll, and given the collection of beards the brothers Carney have cultivated there may have been some considered chin stroking going on at times. There are also sparks of pure instinct strafing through the work which becomes clear when you realise they've been completely self-taught after accidentally starting to play in 2001.

Jennings, Van and Lain Carney were born and raised on farms around the Blue Ridge Mountain Range of Virginia, and the original naivety of their homespun playing has spiralled into a prolific body of well-crafted work. This, their tenth album since forming the band in 2004 was recorded in their own Studio A. Built around harmonies that only siblings seem to muster, there is a neat balance struck between angry noise from self-enforced isolation and a pastoral quality that strikes into the heart of America in a direct bloodline from CSNY and The Band. I haven't been so floored, or excited by the nimble dexterity of a band to combine these two facets since White Denim hit a heady peak with Fits. Innocence neatly flips from 'It's The Greatest' which recalls White Denim's 'Syncn' via the Neil Young infused 'Noble Heads' back to the sludging onslaught of 'Surrounded By Diamonds' which recalls the full 1993 pomp of the Amphetamenine Reptile Records roster – Surgery, Today Is The Day, Cows et al.

Where Pontiak have blossomed from their earlier work is that rather than starting with the psychedelic chaos or indeed the Kyuss, and carving melodies out of it, this time they've laid down their axes and built the songs up from their voices alone. It's been a different way of writing that befits their studious, experimental nature, and it has borne fruit, none more disarmingly on the fuzzy ballad 'Wildfires', powerful despite its distinctly lower volume. Given their prolific nature and the filmic soundscapes literally realised in last year's self-directed short film for 'Heat Leisure', there's plenty more mileage on this road trip before Pontiak take their Last Waltz. I don't know about you, but I'm hitching a ride.

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