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Pontiak - Sea Voids

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Artist: Pontiak

Album: Sea Voids

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jan. 4, 2010

Pontiak’s fourth full-length is a grab-bag of styles: Sabbathy-sludge, amp torturing experimentation, Cream-like alchemies of whispery verse and electric blues. and quiet little folk tunes. Where Sun on Sun and Pontiak’s half of Kale (split with Arbouretum) seemed to place the band on a trajectory towards Kyuss’ bludgeoning hallucinations, Sea Voids opens up a jigsaw puzzle box worth of possibilities, jamming pieces in side by side without much thought about how they fit together.

Sea Voids has its share of crushers. It opens with “Suzerain”’s Iommi-ish crunch and swagger, a slow series of giant chords tottering under their own weight. “Worldwide Prince” is similarly familiar, with broodingly slow riffs blossoming under soft, dream-hazed vocals. (This is the one that sounds like Cream.) And “The Spiritual Nurse” may just be the best of the bunch, constructed on crisp, geometrical rhythms, with plenty of negative space so that the guitar riffs seem even louder in contrast.

Pontiak could make a whole album out of this kind of material – essentially another Sun on Sun – and that would undoubtedly be the safest move. Instead, they try all kinds of things, and as a result, the album doesn’t hang together all too well, and some bits are much better than others. Still, the experiments they attempt – even the self-indulgent, messing-with-feedback “Shot in the Alarm” – are encouraging on one level. This is not a band that’s OK with being predictable.

The willingness to step out from the expected also leads to two very pretty, unexpected ballads. “Life and Coral” is bare and evocative, one ghostly guitar and voice tracing images of sea life and mortality. It’s simple, melancholy and quite effective, along the lines of Randall of Nazareth’s acoustic experiments. “It’s the Life”, later on, is a slightly denser, slightly more upbeat unplugged track, a campfire song performed with muted gusto.

"Life" leads directly into "Sea Voids," another ritually paced, feedback-bent, monster of a cut and one of the album’s highlights. Still, the transition is jarring, maybe the biggest jump on a very discontinuous album. Variety is great, but so is coherence. Sea Voids has a lot of the former, not so much of the latter.

By Jennifer Kelly

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