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Echo Ono

(Thrill Jockey; US: 21 Feb 2012; UK: 20 Feb 2012)

Amplifier Worship

After listening to Echo Ono, I wanted to do one thing: go into a garage, plug in my guitar to a good amp, stomp firmly on a distortion pedal, and strum. Pontiak’s fifth studio album is an in-your-face exercise in dirty, stoner-laced rock and roll. From the moment the guitar kicks in on “Lions of Least,” and for the most part things don’t wind down.

Like Echo Ono, that last paragraph didn’t waste much time getting to the point.

Because of how straightforward it is, Echo Ono isn’t the best record of its kind. The thirty-three minutes that comprise the record fly by fast, and in that very short runtime there isn’t anything revelatory going on. But what Pontiak do here is a subtle bit of brilliance; what seems like a clear-cut genre exercise is actually layered with various experimental threads that elevate the album above the status of “a good rock record”. Echo Ono deftly mixes psychedelia, stoner rock, and garage rock, all through a classic rock-tinged lens. Echoes of The Stooges and Led Zeppelin can be heard here, alongside more contemporary rockers like Boris and The Black Keys. Nothing here sounds like genre revitalization, but that isn’t any reason to discredit the great genre-melding done here. In fact, this could be the start of some sort of genre revitalization, given the album’s many successes. This for the most part is a nuanced set of songs, and for any fan of well-done rock music it’s definitely worth listening to.

Where the album excels is in the masterful displays of The Guitar Riff. Most of the time these riffs are of the straight-up rock and roll variety, but often the album takes typical rock distortion and uses it in a way that harkens to other genres, including some rather surprising parallels to post-metal. “Left With Lights” begins with an Isis-esque bassline, which is then joined by an accompanying guitar that goes into full-on overdrive in the chorus. The tense build-up of “Royal Colors” concludes with a riff that resembles some of Pelican’s most recent work. These tones quite effectively amp up the heaviness factor, which for the most part is constantly at eleven. This intensity doesn’t always pay dividends, such as on the jam “Panoptica,” which is a noisy, dissonant waste of seven minutes.

The slower tracks, while good, don’t fare as well as the other material. “The Expanding Sky”, which save for lead singer Van Carney’s vocals could have been an Aerosmith b-side back when they were good, is the best mid-tempo song here, followed by the doomy, Led-Zeppelin-influenced plodder “Silver Shadow”. Pontiak still find a way to seem like they’re rocking out on these lower tempo moments, still maintaining the impressive energy that makes Echo Ono feel somewhat urgent.

Echo Ono’s short length makes it a rather interesting record to review. On one hand, it’s a good thing that the band didn’t load this album chock full of riff-fests, as even good rock and roll can wear out its welcome. But at the same time, given how good most of the material is here, it makes you wonder what the band could have done if they’d have given themselves more room to experiment. The psychedelic sleeve art, while indicative of some of these songs, for the most part undersells the intensity of the album. When I hear this music what comes to mind is me jamming aimlessly in my garage, not me toking up and then jamming in my garage. (Suffice it to say, I would not be a convincing stoner rocker.) But don’t let the rainbow haze on the album’s cover mislead you: This ain’t a run through a springtime field. Echo Ono is a good slab of rock and roll that wastes no time doing anything other than being genuine.


Brice Ezell is Assistant Editor at PopMatters, where he also reviews music, film, and books, which he has done since 2011. He also is the creator of PopMatters' Notes on Celluloid column, which covers the world of film music. His writing also appears in Sea of Tranquility and Glide Magazine (formerly Hidden Track). His short story, "Belle de Jour", was published in 67 Press' inaugural publication The Salmagundi: An Anthology. You can follow his attempts at wit on Twitter and Tumblr if you're so inclined. He lives in Chicago.

Pontiak - Lions of Least
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