Pontiak consists of three brothers who record and rehearse out of a farmhouse in Virginia. The group has been prolific since Thrill Jockey began issuing its records in 2008, and Living is the band’s fifth release in a two-year period. Previous efforts were recorded hastily in single live takes or brief sessions, but Living was a considered effort, the culmination of four months of work. In their live shows, the members of Pontiak often create a single, perpetually shifting tune from the building blocks of their sound — sludgy guitar riffs, precise rhythms, and carefully deployed excursions into dissonance — that moves at such a clip it doesn’t even give the audience time to applaud. The result can be hypnotic, the bond between the three brothers translating into a well-paced eruption of sonic pyrotechnics. On Living, the band attempts to progress beyond the basic appeal of its sound with ultimately unsatisfying results.
Kicking off promisingly with “Young,” a propulsive rocker that could go head to head with a top Queens of the Stone Age single. “Original Vestal” is a brief, dissonant track that breaks up the riffage of “Young” and leads into “Algiers By Day,” a pleasant but inconsequential mid-tempo tune that is followed with “And By Night,” a superb example of Pontiak’s ability to wrangle feedback into a rock template. Just as the album picks up momentum, the tedious “Second Sun” breaks in, followed by the much worse “Beach,” a lifeless acoustic Pink Floyd retread. “Lemon Lady” is a sludgy slow burn stoner rock track that seems as if its building to something special, before cutting off abruptly for “This Is Living,” basically a re-do of opener “Young” that inexplicably foregrounds the goofy, faux-philosophical lyrics of the vocal track.
Living sputters out, deploying the tired post-rock by numbers of “Pacific,” and finally deflates completely with “Forms of The,” a bizarre acoustic ballad so out of step with the rest of the album it sounds like it was recorded by a different band. Living isn’t a complete failure, but it’s a textbook case of an extremely talented group with a distinct sound making a conscious effort to arbitrarily expand its horizons instead of focusing on its strengths. Pontiak is artful enough that nothing fails completely, but most of Living coasts along on cruise control, never translating the heaviness, technical prowess and energy that Pontiak is capable of to record.