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Published: 2018/01/26
by Larson Sutton

Marvin Pontiac
The Asylum Tapes

Marvin Pontiac is not John Lurie. Okay, he is. Or it is. Having to clarify the distinction between Lurie and Pontiac is part of what makes The Asylum Tapes as artistic, fun, confounding, and/or wacky an album as it is right from the first droning words; “it’s really unbelievable.” Pontiac materialized over a decade ago, as a mysterious bluesman with his primitive, otherworldly sound. Some journalists bought in without a closer look, accepting the celebrity affirmations of Pontiac’s genius, then resenting Lurie for nearly pulling off the ruse. What the conceit obscured was the clever, near hypnotic music that made Pontiac or Lurie or both an artist to be taken seriously on its merit and excused for the joke. So, now Pontiac is back, with an explanation that the 24 songs here (most under two minutes) are derived from his 4-track recordings made during his stay at the Esmerelda State Mental Institution. It’s an easy premise to accept, with the steady, stream-of-(sub)conscious, unfiltered lyrics, layered rants and chants, and looping guitar and harmonica, played with a kind of swampy, found-object affect. This is what the madman is saying when everyone stops listening. He takes on bears and banjos, baby pigs and beasts, Godzilla and Santa Claus. Somewhere in this universe Thelonious Monk, John Lee Hooker, and Lewis Carroll brewed up a medicine, and Pontiac sucked it down. And, somehow, believe it or not, it’s at once weirder and yet not as weird as it appears. Like watching behind the glass as Pontiac loses his mind or fools us all, again.

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