I got hold of this record on a Thursday evening, but I didn’t listen to it until late on the Friday night and onwards into Saturday’s morning. I arranged with my housemate (and fellow Pontiak fan) to meet up in my room and listen to it good and loud. We were having a quiet drink at a quayside pub when we bumped into a group of acquaintances and strangers. I stood with them for a while, talked a little then slowly disengaged from the group. Someone was talking about how they’re a “designer”, someone was talking about something they don’t really know anything about: peacocks competing over parched and barren ground. I couldn’t handle it, so I went and stood by a road and watched revellers walking somewhere…. My housemate came by in his van and we rode back to our village.
My first listen to Maker was similarly bewildering and unsettling. I was stoned for the first time in a good few months and it felt like the wrong time, as it always does when I plan on it… I was angry at myself for participating in the hot air and hubris at the pub, so going further inside probably wasn’t best. It felt like I had just got loaded and come home leaving the door unlocked, none the wiser that a Yeti was following me home.
Maker stomps about like some kind of heaving beast that your eyes can’t quite get a fix on. There is a quivering in the air, a heat haze. You could call Pontiak a defiant band, drawing a line in the sand for anyone who travelled across the desert with the amiable vibrations of Sun on Sun, their previous full length (review here). Maker makes an ascent into the hills and forests beyond that line, into mountainous terrain. The first half of the album is a steep climb of riffs that are far more rugged, bandy-legged and vicious than what the band have plied before. My jelly legs and mush brain were no match at the time and I felt crushed and bruised by the listen. The numerous short instrumentals that intersperse this album make for hard sonic hurdles, a very different flow to that of their previous work.
I really enjoy the loose fit production, particularly on Lain Carney’s drums. You can feel them thump in your stomach on the sprawling, lumbering title track. Things either come from a distance or appear right by you. There are a few quieter moments on this track that brood and focus on something delicate. In the second half of the song Jennings Carney picks out a simple and soft but subtly unnerving bass riff, around which the second half revolves. I have been humming that riff for the past two weeks. The hybrid thirteen minute song is completed by raw and satisfying bluesy riffs which occasionally touch on parody in their histrionics. This album sounds more claustrophobic than its predecessors, but as the songs are also more dense and pressured I’m unable to say if that’s the production or just the heavy atmosphere of the songs.
The bass playing throughout is admirable, it frequently elevates the guitar, the melody and the sonic force without stepping into the limelight, which is good work. It often operates in very low frequencies so when it does take a lead in a higher range it makes a strong impression on the song, as on the densely rhythmic, fuzzy riff that carries the almost hardcore groove of ‘Wild Knife Night Fight’.
At various points the album opens out onto something much larger and these are the tracks that hook me. I was walking on Dartmoor at the weekend and the closest parallel in that world would be the appearance of wide and endless views after an hour of looking down at a track, choosing your steps. The heady and succulent roar of ‘Honey’ has a woozy, thick black drone at its core. Van Carney’s guitar sounds even more earthily resonant and tectonic than it did on Sun on Sun’s title track. His vocals ache and wail their considerations and it sounds like either Jennings or Lain are also singing. The group vocals aren’t gone, but there’s nothing here to compare to the stop/start choir of brothers we heard on ‘White Hands’ from Sun on Sun.
The first song on Maker, ‘Laywayed’ picks up where that record left off (despite the four songs of Kale that lie between) and is the closest relation, yet ‘Maker’ on the whole is a very different record, to me at least. The song is as driven and bruising as ‘Shell Skull’ but thinner, leaner and more sonically psychedelic. It wrongfoots you, then re-appears with drums twisted outward in a wet echo. Unlike the murmurs and vocal shadow play found elsewhere on the record, here Van announces his words more clearly:
“Vigilance is the morning of the, greatest day turned into a blur”
Like Thom Yorke, Van Carney frequently ends a line unfinished and completes it with the next after a pause, so you don’t have something whole to chew on. It’s a good style. Remember your English literature teacher telling you about enjambment? Well this it. Ambiguous vocabulary (morning/mourning) heightens the disorientation of the trip-like imagery. The song ‘Seminal Spring’ is pretty much the only song I have heard that can evoke the same kind of barren heart-bending strum that Radiohead hit on songs like ‘How to Disappear Completely’. Van starts the song as he means to continue, add five more commas if you want to get an idea of the phrasing.
“Standing on the shoulders of slim limbs / Buried neck, deep in, the notion of wet red sand.”
The lyrics are an element of what will keep me coming back to the record. As with their previous efforts there are a few recurring themes. Mostly hands, time, sun (to the extent of sounding like worship) and “the Maker”, who crops up here and there. Pontiak’s words are in a passionate relationship with the dirt and its seasons; they interweave a mystical landscape with earthy and bloody realities.
The band are having fun pushing out to their extremities with the short snarling instrumentals that flex muscle and bust brains. ‘Headless Conference’ hurtles around the room with the guitar sounding almost as metallic but not quite as harsh as Steve Albini circa Rapeman (which now I’ve thought about it is in places kin with Maker when it thrashes). ‘Blood Pride’ paints something crude and horny on the wall in monochrome; ‘Heat Pleasure’ puts your head through the wall of a steel factory. However I’m not entirely sure about these instrumentals, for now I keep skipping to the sung songs for the purposes of enjoyment.
Without the handful of softer dusky trips like the twilight hum of ‘Aestival’ and the aforementioned acoustic flickerings of ‘Seminal Spring’, this record wouldn’t be the journey that it is. They provide just enough breathing space for you to keep up with the climb. Needless to say I’m looking forward to seeing a Pontiak show when they hit these shores this summer.