Prolific Virginia three-piece Pontiak have now been a band for a decade, but they’ve had their whole lives to build the kind of musical synergy that many bands dream of but rarely achieve. It’s probably because they’re a band of brothers (literally) but to be fair the band have had plenty of time to refine their unique identity over the course of their seven albums and various EPs. This brings us to number eight, ‘Innocence’ – an album unabashedly in love with sixties and seventies garage rock, pop and punk. These influences seem to have been melded and honed to within an inch of their lives which makes ‘Innocence’ an intensely concentrated dose of rawkus guitars, wailing vocals, pop melodies and punk energy.
The album can be loosely divided into two camps – the loud and the quiet. Putting their best foot forward, Pontiak kick open the doors of ‘Innocence’ with the eponymous title track, thus establishing the album’s primary principle of building a song on one big mean fuzzy riff and running with it. ‘Lack Lustre Rush’ takes this archetype a step further by adding insanely simplistic but majorly catchy lyrics, melodies and guitar licks. ‘Ghosts’, too, is a propulsive fuzz odyssey which is possessed of one of the album’s best and snappiest vocal choruses. Elsewhere ‘Surrounded By Diamonds’ is a gigantic seventies heavy rock pastiche hinting at Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Kiss and various others.
But it’s not all bombast with Pontiak as is evidenced by the quieter acoustic songs dotted throughout the middle section of ‘Innocence’. ‘Noble Heads’ sounds like it could have been a last minute ‘Rubber Soul’ outtake, while ‘Wildfires’ and ‘Darkness Is Coming’ are built upon that same Lennon/McCartney mould but with the creeping influence of generation-X songwriters/slackers like Evan Dando, J Mascis and there’s even a hint of wonky, mid-era Flaming Lips. ‘Wildfires’ in particular seems designed for audience participation with a mid-paced, lilting vocal melody that the band will probably spend the summer having sung back at them.
One of the band’s most striking elements are their vocal melodies; although they generally favour a high pitched or hoarse wail, the brothers’ harmonies are capable of leading songs through subtle transitions, a quality particularly well-highlighted on ‘It’s The Greatest’ which is based around a simple three chord progression but seems to have multiple sections. On the acoustic songs their vocal interactions are off-kilter but heart-warming.
I must admit that my initial reaction to ‘Innocence’ was a negative one – I originally thought that the songs were too simple (and to be honest, I still think that one or two of the tracks here are either throwaway or half-baked at best). But after a few listens, ‘Innocence’s wide-eyed enthusiasm finally got to me and I just sat back and enjoyed it. ‘Innocence’ may be an evocative title, but here it perhaps signifies a band going back to and reinterpreting music heard in their early years together; throughout these eleven songs the melodies are engaging, the energy is contagious and the sense of brotherly camaraderie really shines through, and that’s what makes it such a joyous album to behold.
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin