Arbouretum is showing teeth, getting restless. You hear it in Kale's nine-minute opening track, "Time Doesn't Lie"--the beast leads in as a rolling, interlude-filled folk-rock song with a powerful, cresting chorus/chorale, and then, somewhere around the five-minute mark, burns itself down ruthlessly and majestically, guitars riffing and intertwining over an inky bass dirge like predator birds flitting above a mountain river. (Notably, Dave Heumann sings about torrents and trees in the opening minutes.) It's a jam, yes, but absolutely furious and breathless: Nine minutes that pass like nine minutes running from a bear.
Then, as both bands on this split are wont to do, Arbouretum changes suits with the lovely, expressive electric-folk John Cale tune "Buffalo Ballet." It's slow--the cymbals are touched, not hit, the guitar work is precise and delicate. Its refrain "sleeping in the midday sun" gets right to the root of it--city life means getting cheated. And "Flood of Floods," with its Katrina allusions--though most of Kale is so atemporal the reference could as well be 1972's Agnes floods--only reinforces the point.
Pontiak's portion of Kale is likely a bit of a teaser for this fall's Thrill Jockey rerelease of 2007's stellar Sun on Sun, but it functions more as something to tide locals over for the next year while everyone else pretends Sun is a new album. Like Sun, Pontiak sounds here something like a companion to Paris, Texas, if that movie had bar-fight scenes--lots of exquisite, surreal desert-rock wandering segueing back and forth through growling stoner-metal churn ("Dome Under the Sky") or cymbal 'n' reverb-hosed climaxes ("Green Pool").
Pontiak's two Cale covers--Kale, get it?--"Mr. Wilson" and "The Endless Plain of Fortune," are not necessarily abrupt, but it's surprising how out of character dusty '70s psych rock sounds from Pontiak, which owes a considerable debt to it. This band has done a superb job of crafting its own sound--one that is almost startling on introduction--and these interpretations do a fine job of proving it. ()