Everyone has a favorite band. Sure, it may shift depending on your mood or age, but we all pledge loyalty to some recording artist somewhere, which can range anywhere from 50 Cent to Glenn Gould. However, there are some fanships that are more rewarding than others. If you’re a fan of Panic! At the Disco, for example, you get treated to a spectacular live show, but you also have a spectacular ticket price to go with it. The hardcore fans can buy the “Collector’s Edition” of their debut album, which was basically their debut album with a whole bunch of unnecessary bonus crap thrown in. Let’s face it: you need the official P!ATD paper mask and (no kidding) a phenakistoscope. This, my friends, is a very iffy type of fanship.
If you’re a fan of Pinback, however, then you’re treated very well.
Pinback, for those who don’t know, are a mega-melodic indie-guitar duo consisting of Zach Smith and the ever-prolific Rob Crow. Their 2004 release, Summer in Abaddon, was an extraordinary disc of spikey guitars, left-field arrangements and hushed-yet-haunting lyricism. Note how the breezy “Fortress” and the furious “AFK” were picked as great bi-polar singles. It garnered critical waves of joy, solid sales, and a bunch of fans. Yet for those who left Summer with a bloodlust for more, Pinback delivered, giving their fans a B-sides & rarities collection that was on par with any of their albums (Nautical Antiques). This was followed by Rob Crow dropping a solo album that brilliantly expanded on the intimacy and immediacy that lingers in every Pinback song (Living Well). Pinback fans were happy fans.
Now, Pinback releases Autumn in the Seraphs, which just might be one of the greatest placeholders to in recent memory.
Each new album and EP from Smith & Crow tended to show some sort of musical growth of great significance. Before Abaddon stormed the hearts of the indie world, they quietly released an EP the year prior called Offcell where the duo used electronic instrumentation to take their sound to the far reaches of the universe and back. With Seraphs, however, the duo don’t really expand their sound as much as repeat it. There are still some moments of instantaneous shot-in-the-arm satisfaction, but here the group swaps out diverse musicality for a more insular lyrical view. Even with that drawback, it still pays off pretty well. Still, it should be noted that Seraphs kicks off with a barn-storming knockout of a rocker called “From Nothing to Nowhere” that doesn’t waste a single second of time. Though lyrically cryptic and obtuse (“If it’s nothing but a sign / Bleed onto your shoes, man”), it still is a welcome gem for any fans who are making the transition from Summer to Autumn. However from this point on, things get a little hazy.
Some bands have styles that are identifiable from miles away. You can always tell a New Order song because of it’s very distinctive bass sound, and you can always tell a Pinback song because of Crow’s stylized guitar style, both in picking and tone. On Crow’s Living Well, he switched that sound up enough, using acoustic guitars and sampled effects , to make an album that didn’t drag that much. By the time that Seraphs gets around to “Subbing for Eden”, the trick gets a little tired. The momentum really drags in Seraphs’ soggy middle. This is where the perpetual Pinback problem of Crow’s voice being too low in the mix rears its ugly head again. Yet these low points are almost forgiven thanks to some stunning gems that prove to be some of Pinback’s best to date.
“Good to Sea” is a remarkable pop song, complete with twinkling guitar effects and a propulsive mid-tempo energy. It rubs right up next to “How We Breathe”, a wounded ballad that sounds good at first, but becomes amazing once the piano chords come in, making it feel like an epic journey to the center of your soul. Furthermore, for every time Crow comes off as a bit lyrically obtuse there’s another time when he hits it out of the park. He does this in the middle of the beautiful and tear-jerking “Walters”, the hands-down album highlight:
Larry climbs into his lawn chair
Waves a goodbye
Unties from the post
Races towards the sky
Takes a sip out of his beer
And says “It looks amazing”
He said “It looks amazing”
Climbs until he can’t think
Can’t hear a sound
Shoots out the balloons
And falls to the ground
Jumps out off of his chair
And says “It was amazing”
Even though Seraphs has a bit more of a rock edge, the fury seen on “AFK” is largely left behind. “Off By 50” scores the album’s left-field weirdo moment by sounding exactly like Radiohead covering “Iron Man”. “Devil You Know” is built around a snarky riff that will have any serious alt-rocker smacking themselves over the head saying “I wish I wrote that!” before handing it over to Chris Lord-Alge. Pinback never need to crank their amps up to prove that they’re rocking out, mainly because they just write good songs.
Yet good songs alone do not a spectacular album make. Autumn of the Seraphs shows no major songwriting leaps at all, but it’s still a fine indie-rock LP. “From Nothing to Nowhere”, “Good to Sea” and “Walters” will all make their way onto that inevitable Pinback greatest hits compilation. In the meantime fans can rest easy: their favorite band didn’t exactly top themselves this time around, but they still have yet to make a bad record. Now that’s treating your fans well.
// Notes from the Road
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