Frontier Psychiatrist

Psychedelic Wilderness: Pontiak and the Independent Life

Posted on: May 2, 2012

Pontiak band members, Echo Ono

In these days of obsessive self-promotion, it can be a challenge to remember the artists who don’t feel the need to beg for your attention, those performers who are more enthused by their own art and less by their recognition. Pontiak, three Appalachian psych-leaning brothers content with their blues jams and reverb pedals, are one of those bands. Operating in a space that is entirely their own, Pontiak is a band that thrives upon their own independent nature and experimental urges.

Existing on the stoner spectrum somewhere between My Morning Jacket and Sleep, Pontiak have been honing their spacey Americana for nearly 10 years now, with nine releases, each as distinct as they all are consistent. There’s the delay-infected blues of Maker (2009), the riff-machine of Echo Ono (2012) or the concept exploration of Comecrudos (2011), all different faces of the same 12-sided die. The bands greatest strengths—their brotherly love and an equal commitment to style and substance—are found on every Pontiak release. The cool identity of the Carney brothers is imprinted on every track, an attribute that could be stripped if they were a band more dependent on their reception and the machine.

Last week, Pontiak rocked a sparsely populated Empty Bottle as an opening act for Chicago’s cacophonous Spanyurd. Rather than relying on hardcore theatrics and disjointed compositions like their headliner, the Carney brothers dug themselves into a deep groove using focused blues licks, group vocals and tasteful amounts of drone and space. Much like on their recorded output, the Pontiak live performance is as enjoyable off the cuff as it is when playing close attention. Their love of the jam is always present; you can’t help but get caught in it yourself.

This year’s Echo Ono is the band’s most accessible and comprehensive work to date. Less interested in space and concept as last year’s excellent but heady ComecrudosEcho Ono is further proof that a future of real rock and roll is upon us. Less interested in getting weird, and more interested in kicking back, Echo Ono is a versatile record that wouldn’t sound out of place during a cloudy session, at a dive bar or on your work headphones.

Discussion continues over the advantages and disadvantages of the independent music structure. It’s the bands that are more concerned with their own work, and less with hitting it big, that show the strengths of our current model. These artists, under the old model, could be discovered, crafted and promoted by the machine to a music-hungry consuming mass. For better or for worse, that infrastructure is next to non-existent. For worse, we have an artist like Van Hunt, whose woes with the music industry we discussed last month highlight the lack of focus and interest major labels have in producing and marketing a high-quality product. For better, we have the talent of Pontiak, a band that uses their freedom to scratch any creative itch it comes.

Pontiak is a perfect example of a band that can thrive creatively in their own space, content to make the music they want to make and proud to share it with those willing to listen. But they also seem aware of their stance in the great pop spectrum. They will never be a hit band, and they’re fine with that. With a supportive label like Thrill Jockey behind them, the Carney brothers are in the middle of what could be considered the ideal music career. Unburdened by delusions or hype, Pontiak are true independents, free to explore their own psychedelic, riff-heavy America as they please.

Peter Lillis is Assistant Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He hopes you think of him as an independent.

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