Taking their name from the iconic American automobile marque that will cease production this winter after 84 years, Pontiacs have plenty of heritage under the hood. The band reunites guitar-vocalist Kenichi Asai and bassist Toshiyuki Terui of quintessential Japanese garage-rock band Blankey Jet City, exactly 10 years after they went their separate ways.
Exploding out of the Nagoya underground in 1990, just as postbubble Japan was descending into financial meltdown, Blankey Jet City made motorcycle-grade music that provided an alternative to processed pop and gave a voice to a generation of futureless youths. They were one of the most subversive rock acts of the decade, commenting on the decline of Japanese society via major record labels Toshiba EMI and Polydor.
The problem was that the band’s constituent members were never comfortable with the major-label system and its attendant culture of artistic compromise. In 2000, the group disbanded. And that’s when their creative juices really started to flow.
Asai pursued independent success with his side-band Sherbets (whose sound, ironically, was more pop than Blankey’s) as well as with Ajico (featuring jazz-pop singer UA), Jude and a self-named solo project. Altogether, he now has more than 50 albums under his belt, and his label, Sexy Stones Records, allows him to avoid the mainstream industry entirely.
Meanwhile, Terui ran for many years with Yusuke Chiba, ex-frontman of similarly huge garage-rockers Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, in the bands Rosso and Raven.
Crucially, Asai and Terui have maintained their artistic integrity, never venturing too far from the garage-rock sound they know best but always finding ways to freshen up their appeal. Pontiacs’ debut album, “Galaxy Head Meeting” (released this week), is direct and dynamic, with beefy rhythm from ex-Back Drop Bomb drummer Tatsuya Nakamura powering catchy guitar hooks and the occasional singalong chorus. Best of all, their kinetic live shows offer all the thrill of a car chase for less than the cost of a speeding ticket. Here’s hoping Asai and Terui’s reunion inspires a new generation bored with Japan’s pop charts.
Pontiacs play Nov. 8 at Liquidroom in Tokyo; Nov. 10 at Apollo Theater, Nagoya; and Nov. 11 at Shangri-La in Osaka. An extensive Japan tour follows in January 2011. “Galaxy Head Meeting” is on sale now. For more information, visit www.pontiacs.jp.