Saturday, December 1, 2012

Summer in Abaddon - Pinback

Summer in Abaddon
Touch and Go Records  TG237

I have an acquaintance at work who is really into indie rock, he knows a lot more about it than I do, so I tend to respect his opinions about new bands.  Several years ago he told me that his favorite band was Pinback which kind of shocked me.  I had heard them a few times on the radio and wasn't all that impressed.  His passion for the band prompted me to buy a couple of their CDs and I have to say they didn't knock me out.  I decided to give them one more try on vinyl which is how I ended up with this record.  At first I was irked by it.  The cover is thin and flimsy and for notes the record company just stuck the CD booklet in the sleeve, I hate that.  Despite that bad start, when I actually played it, I liked the record itself, it remains my favorite of their albums.  I finally understood my co-worker's enthusiasm for them.  The recording version of Pinback is Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV who play all of the instruments and write the songs, they even record in their own homes, truly a DIY band but their records sound quite polished and professional.  This album opens with "Non Photo-Blue" which is driven by a chunky riff with almost a reggae-like feeling as it examines a romantic break up using computer metaphors.  Like nearly all of their songs, it has a dual contrapuntal vocal that I find very compelling.  Neither Crow nor Smith is a particularly distinguished singer but their voices blend together extremely well.  A moody slice of jangle pop with a powerful bass line, "Sender" is an impressive song even if I'm not sure what it is really about.  The language of the song is stunning as it describes alienation and desperation.  It is one of my favorite songs on the record.  Most of Pinback's lyrics are tough for me to understand, but they are always interesting even when I'm baffled by them.  "Syracuse" is one such song, I just have no idea what it means.  It is probably the first pop song in history to make reference to a monotube.  It has a simple repetitious riff, but builds in strength as it picks up speed and it uses its contrapuntal vocal structure to great effect.  "Blood's on Fire" is a little easier song to figure out.  It seems to be addressed to an anxiety-ridden old friend who has disappeared or died perhaps.  It has the extraordinary line "pacing a faceless maw somewhere vague" that just knocks me out.  Despite the anguish and tension in the lyrics, the music is slow and pleasant sounding, even poppy in places.  "Fortress" ends the side with jangle pop and more unhappiness as it depicts a difficult if not tortured relationship.  For a couple of guys from sunny and laid-back San Diego, Smith and Crow have a remarkably dark and anxious vision.  "This Red Book" is an enigmatic litany of angst with another great contrapuntal vocal structure and a surprisingly poppy sound, at times it reminds me of Paul McCartney.  "Soaked" uses a slinky groove to describe what sounds like a really bad evening.  "3x0" delivers its surreal lyrics with a soaring melody that is almost uplifting.  I'm not sure what the meaning is of a line like "your sentry men fall behind, into the sunspots we vanish away" but I find it really striking, just like the rest of the song.  "The Yellow Ones" features ominous apocalyptic imagery over a hypnotic tune driven by some lovely piano riffs.  "AFK" is the most extraordinary song on the album, the lyrics are stunning and the music is exciting and full of tension with many shifts in melody and texture.  First rate alternative rock.  It gives the album its title which judging from the grim imagery of the song seems to refer to a summer in hell (not in the literal sense.)  The song is loaded with travel metaphors of a trip gone bad and concludes with what I believe is a reference to the Slint song "Good Morning, Captain" which appropriately enough uses a shipwreck to convey similar impressions to those generated by "AFK."  It is a doom laden, yet propulsive ending to the album.  Pinback is never going to be one of my favorite groups, they are too obscure and insular to reach me on a deep level, but I've come to respect and admire them a lot more than when I first heard them.  By rock standards this is difficult music that requires a lot from the listener, but ultimately the reward justifies the effort.  Recommended to fans of early R.E.M..

1 comment:

  1. This is indeed quite a good album -- I've been meaning to feature a song from it on Reselect for a while...thanks for the reminder!