ARTIST TO WATCH: The Pontoons

The Pontoons - lead singer Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt, of New York alt-rock duo the Pontoons.

A decade and a half after making early waves in
New York’s mid-90s alt-rock scene, the Pontoons return
with a new single and what may be the longest-gestating
debut album of the era. Was it worth the wait?
Short answer: Definitely.

– – – – –

4/2/2012 Update: The video at the bottom of this page is the brand-new official video for “Antidote,” directed by Tim Ticehurst, rather than merely the audio for the song.

– – – – –

In Billboard’s November 1994 issue, Larry Flick wrote that a certain indie-pop band from New York City had “one of the best debuts of the year” with their first single “Juncos and Robins.”

The Pontoons, by that point, had built their reputation through three years of steady touring around New York City. So to the industry reps who continuously trolled such clubs trying to find the next Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins, there was every indication the band was set to carve out a niche in the burgeoning alt-rock scene.

“At the time we were playing out in NYC and the Northeast more [often] than we found ourselves in the studio,” says drummer Christian Harper. “This was mostly due to our efforts to build a local following, but also because we were young and didn’t have the finances to bankroll an entire album.”

Juncos and Robins

The Pontoons' 1994 7-inch single "Juncos and Robins," which earned them Billboard recognition.

Choosing instead to focus on improving their live shows, while building strong word of mouth via college radio for “Juncos and Robins” and “Landslide,” they eventually fell through the cracks. Without ever recording a full-length album, the Pontoons broke up in 1996.

“In retrospect we probably should have focused more on recording,” Harper says. “But we were drawn by the thrill of playing gigs and loved having that direct interaction [with fans].”

With timing being everything – their brief “heyday” preceded the mp3 revolution by half a decade – the Pontoons seemed destined to remain a footnote in the overcrowded historical landscape which is the 90s alternative movement, their blend of REM-inspired jangle-pop to remain virtually out of print. And that’s how it might have remained, were it not for a chance reunion a few years ago.

“We’d rallied around the idea of working together and producing the full-length album we never made,” Harper says. “Tom and I were able to reconnect with our original recording engineer Sal Mormando, and when we shared our plan he was excited about the idea of working with us again. Everybody loves a comeback story, right? Regardless, we’re having a great time and have realized how much we missed making music together.”

Mormando has produced albums for Patti Smith, Billy Squire and Dayna Kurtz among many others, and is currently mixing the upcoming Pontoons full-length, keeping their original sound at the forefront. The latest single, “Antidote” (which you can view a video for below) showcases the duo’s jangle-pop guitar arpeggios, tight rhythms and Tom Hunt’s distinct vocals for three minutes which barely whet the appetite before the obligatory repeat listens. It is a sound as eerily reminiscent of REM as it is more obscure early-90s alt fare like Trip Shakespeare, an early forebear of what became Semisonic.

But that’s what fans who heard the band 15 years ago came to expect, and the new single blends seamlessly with the music of their past while suggesting at the same time that the future looks incredibly bright.

Timing may indeed be everything. With this much talent coming together to produce the album which almost never was, the stars seem to be ready to align in the Pontoons’ favor. With any luck “Antidote” will prove to be exactly that, a refreshing counterbalance to the decidedly lacking state of pop music thus far in 2012. Their current plan is to self-release the album later this summer along with another single, and if the music remains as strong as our appetizer, expect to hear the praise spread rapidly.

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