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Pontiak - Comecrudos

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Artist: Pontiak

Album: Comecrudos

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jun. 21, 2011

Driving long distances can sometimes feel like a metaphor for life itself. Cruising through vast, unchanging landscapes, you can feel that the view hardly shifts at all, that you yourself make little mark on the passing miles which look just the same in the rear view as through the front windshield. And yet, you start here, you end there, and whatever you pass through — mountains, deserts, endless cornfields, commercial strips — becomes a part of your narrative. Long journeys make the passage of time concrete and observable, in a way that nothing else does, except, perhaps for music.

Comecrudos was inspired by a trip from Phoenix to Texas, driving south on Route 385 through mountain ridges and volcanic craters and camping out along the Rio Grande. Although not a long record (its four tracks total about 25 minutes), the EP strives for, and often attains, the sprawling vastness of the landscapes that inspired it. The personal exists, intermittently, in shreds of lyrics about memory, meaning and impermanence, but it is often swallowed up larger scale contemplations.

The four tracks are identified only by numbers (Parts I through IV), and breaks between them seem arbitrary: swathes of feedback continue from one track to another; brass from Part I suddenly emerges again in Part III. It seems likely that Comecrudos was intended as one long composition. Part I, a suite for feedback and brass choir, is the most abstract (and least similar to previous Pontiak work). Here, trombones, trumpets and possibly a baritone horn weave together in shifting harmonies and dissonances. Guitars are represented only by amp buzz and drums are similarly minimal, a shimmer of cymbal roll, a rattle of snare. Over seven-plus minutes, the piece unfolds like a dramatic landscape, first stark and barren, then crackling with electric life. The piece closes in the hum of feedback, which drifts over into Part II, a soft acoustic guitar jangle emerging only after a minute or two of indeterminate sound. Yet, Part II resolves into something like a rock song, with widely spaced phrases (“We drive fast / Over the mountains / Leave behind us / Desert that surrounds us”) that are punctuated by simple, upward tilting bass flourishes. Part II is smaller in scale than Part I, and more human. Part III continues in this psychedelic rock idiom, beginning in a dialogue between drum kit and bass, bent blues guitar notes pinging off the syncopated beat. Then, out of nowhere, the brass rises up, a sort of thunderhead on the horizon.

The final section, Part IV, does the best job at integrating the personal with the epic, with lyrics that touch elliptically on past experiences, while seeming to acknowledge their transience and triviality. After remembering a girlfriend’s street, house and window, the singer turns away from his recollection, with the phrase “Those lonely ghosts we used to be / Not now / Not here ever again.” It is the disc’s most anthemic, melodic line, a summation, really, of all that’s gone before. A past love has turned into nothing more than a highway reverie, and today’s journey, however dramatic, however powerful, however beautiful, will ultimately fade in the same way.

Comecrudos is, quite possibly, more interesting to think about than to listen to. Part I makes its point early and stays on afterward. There are only a couple of minutes of song amid long experiments in atmospherics and drama. Yet, the EP wrestles with big issues — the largeness of nature, the smallness of man, the meaning of self amid transitory experience — in a remarkably focused and musical way. There’s very little preaching or even overt philosophizing in these four compositions, but you still come away thinking about the most fundamental questions.

By Jennifer Kelly

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