A few years back, Chicago trio Pinebender flew in straight outta left field and delivered one of the most intriguing, engaging records of 1998, Things Are About to Get Weird. Using their unconventional trio configuration (drums, two guitars, no bass) to their best advantage, the band constructed a tuneful yet menacing wall of squawking guitars that mined a very fertile middle ground somewhere between Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their most sprawling and epic, and the concise, angular indie rock of, say, Archers of Loaf. It was quite a heady concoction, and pretty much everything on the record worked beautifully, from the epic 12-minute opener, “There’s a Bag of Weights in the Back of My Car”, to more poppy and accessible (but no less noisy) tracks like “Kick It” and “New Balance”. Basically, it was something like an instant classic.
Unfortunately, Too Good to be True is more of a look back than a look forward—these five songs were recorded before Things are About to Get Weird, but are only now seeing release. While it’s possible to see where the band would end up from listening to these tracks, they still represent the band in quite an embryonic form. At this point, they hadn’t quite figured out how to marry their aggressive wall of guitar scree to pop songcraft, a trick that they had all but mastered by the time Things Are About to Get Weird was recorded. So, we’re left with tunes like “Built Like a Bubble”, which starts out quite promisingly as a lurching midtempo beast, comparable to many of Pinebender’s best efforts, but unfortunately devolves into a pointless noisefest for the last half of the song. Opener “Last Drag Queen” is probably the closest the band got to its forthcoming glory at this point, but even this tune sounds like B-grade material when compared to most of the songs on Things Are About to Get Weird. Likewise, “Awl” is a tidy little rocker, and in and of itself is a pretty decent tune, but simply lacks the focus of the band’s best material.
While this EP is slightly disappointing, it’s not entirely surprising. It’s very rare that a band finds its legs fully and completely by the time it records its first EP. Had I heard Too Good to be True before I’d heard Things Are About to Get Weird, I’m sure I would have been rather more forgiving in my judgement. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work that way, and I’m forced to judge the embryonic version of the band in the shadow of what they eventually became. That’s not fair, but given the circumstances, it’s the only thing I can do . . . except wait patiently til August or so, when the real, new Pinebender LP, The High Price of Living Too Long With a Single Dream is scheduled to come out.