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IV: 1999 Pinback - This Is a Pinback CD

Pinback - This Is a Pinback CD
Before listening to the 1999 albums again my favourite was Blur's last and probably best album 13 and I was pretty sure about this choice. For the first time the readers' vote and mine were about to match. But then I listened to the European release (with two bonus tracks) of Pinback's debut CD and was overwhelmed. Pinback against Blur was a fight between simplicity and complexity. Between the feeling and the thinking. The countryside and the city. As so often I had to go for the plainness.

The cover is kind of surreal. A white-haired man and a middle-aged woman wave at each other. Each of them has almost crossed a small bridge made of wooden boards. They are about three meters apart. The two bridges on which they stand span two small creeks merging into one slightly bigger creek flowing slowly into the coniferous forest. A mountain of which the top is cut off by the photo looms behind. Why do the man and the woman raise their arms to say hello if they could talk to each other? A philosophical message concerning the futility of verbal communication seems to lie behind the image.

Pinback are the two multi-instrumentalists Rob Crow from Heavy Vegetable and Zach Smith from Three Mile Pilot. On three tracks Rob Zinser who is also from Three Mile Pilot plays the drums. Their hometown is San Diego but it wouldn't be correct to say that their music is sunny. The mood is closer to Mark Kozelek's Red House Painters without being as desperate and forlorn.

As I am not able to put this music into adequate words I can only use all the stereotypes and clichés I know here. Pinback have a distinct sound dominated by guitar, bass, keyboards, drum machine and the low-key voices of Crow and Smith. Usually one of them starts to sing and the other one joins in later singing his own lyrics. Each song has two sets of lyrics which fuse in beautiful harmonies. The tunes are airy and light but unforgettable. Time does not exist in this microcosmos. Everything flows smoothly and slowly. This music feels mellow and ripe. Like two sages singing about the essence of life. There is also a wistful component which doesn't come over as depressive at all. The unpretetentiousness and unobtrusiveness make this album so enchanting.

The drum machine fits perfectly into the songs especially in the magnificent Hurley. It doesn't matter that it is a machine. These songs are not really about rhythm. They are more about atmosphere created by the harmonies and the melody line which is often played by the bass.

Shallow or not isn't the question here. It is more can you resist beauty? Dan Perry said on an ILM thread that this is how he thought Coldplay sounded. Not the worst description. In any case this is how they should sound if they want to get my attention. How to move the listener without falling into the worst mannerism in male singing which is called falsetto. The only parallel to Coldplay is that the band name Pinback is a juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated words. That is about the only thing I would reproach them.

A couple of songs:
For the opener Tripoli please read the other short reviews below. Chaos Engine is a soft keyboard dominated lullaby with nicely accelerating programmed drums. The following track Shag is a change, a little rougher, more like Pavement. The whispered voices sing lyrics strongly contrasting to the still rather calm nature of the song:

Push the little baby down the spiral stairs
Lyon is a song which makes me think of my life. A sad song which can make me weep if I am in the right mood. Introspective and nostalgic. Looking back on life. Touching something very deep inside. Such a crappy keyboard but so beautiful. This cd is a trip.
Crutch is almost ferocious after the magnificently slow Loro before. But a little too long. Two minutes would have been enough. A lot of repetiton, minimalism on this record. Rousseau is the most annoying track. But eleven out of twelve is a rarely reached hit and miss ratio.
Byzantine is one of those songs I love to whistle to. To improvise on by whistling. It has a Western soundtrack quality. There is a shadow of Pavement again here.
I discovered Pinback via the ILM listening chambers which unfortunately don't exist anymore. The idea was to post an mp3 without naming the artist or song and the others would discuss on it without mentioning names if they knew them. A very good way to find about music you usually never listen to or don't know about. The song in the ILM listening chamber 9 was Tripoli, the album opener. Three views on this song which condensate Pinback's music much better than anything I could ever write about them:
Kim in the ILM listening chamber thread:
I haven't heard this particular song before, but it must involve a certain obscenely talented and prolific person, who has barely been heard of yet outside of certain circles. I say this because it bears all the hallmarks that initially caught my attention - the perfect harmonies, the restrained almost monotone vocals that are so oddly engaging, subtle grooves and irresistible rhythms that sway through the song. It's so good as to be almost a paradox - both warm and delicate at once, like a snowflake that never melts. This is the kind of music that I attach myself to for life. Thanks to the person that suggested this one.

Tom Ewing on NYLPM (March, 27th, 2000):

The real-life Pinback may be roisterous types, but when I hear Tripoli I think of saucer-eyed boys in basements making quiet sounds for themselves. With its mumbling vocals, with its humming-to-yourself harmonies and with the mousiest scratching I've ever heard, this is private music, in shelter from the world. Pinback, thank goodness, don't sound anywhere near proficient enough to noodle, which is the big risk post-pop runs, and the no-attitude vocal approach means the simple, pretty tune gets room to breathe. Of course you'll be underwhelmed the first time you listen to it, but hide it somewhere on an MP3 playlist and it'll charm you soon enough.

Pitchfork's Andrew Goldman in his review of the US release of the album:

Tripoli, Pinback's opening track, starts with the kind of drum massacre you'd expect from Modest Mouse. Then the voices enter-- two of them, to be precise. Two superb, soft, vibrato-less voices, free of Isaac Brock's snarl or Jeremy Enigk's affected accent. Voices singing about death and pushing babies down spiral stairs, conveying a gut-wrenching loneliness. Voices that make this album from beautiful start to beautiful finish. Hey, they're compelling voices. In fact, they're so compelling that it becomes easy to ignore the sweet humming of minimal keyboard lines, and guitar playing that occasionally drops hints of Enigk and Prewitt.

The now defunct westernhomes with a more critical approach concerning the album:

Unfortunately, after "Tripoli", Pinback don't really have any more surprises up their sleeves. Every tune on their debut uses the same trick -- two dueling singers, both with trademarked low-key, very slightly out-of-tune voices, simple little beats, guitar overdubs. The relatively underarranged "Loro" is a standout, with almost unbearably plaintive guitars and whispered singing in the grand sensitive-indie-boy tradition. Pinback have got their alternate
tunings and gently-chiming progressions down pat, but their lyricism -- and sense of song development -- could use some work. None of the songs particularly go anywhere, and the two-singers device doesn't do enough to hide the fact that most of their lyrics are gibberish.

The AMG:

Customer review at Amazon:

I humm these tunes in the shower. I sing them as I drive to work. I listen to them with headphones to start my day. Every single time I play this disc, either at work or at home, everyone wants to know who it is. It's infectious!!!

If you arrived to the end of this I can offer you a link to mp3s of 16 songs (#15 Victorious D is a broken link) Pinback performed live in San Diego on March, 23rd, 2002. Six of the twelve songs on This Is a Pinback CD are assembled there. Unfortunately three of my favourites (Crutch, Lyon and Byzantine) are missing.
Other mp3 links: Versailles (pop-up alert), Loro and Chaos Engine.

And here is the overview of the series 40 years, 40 albums of which part IV was this post.

By the way the poll for 1972 has been closed. The winner was Nick Drake's Pink Moon which has been my favourite of that year for most of my life.


last updated: 2/23/21 8:55 AM
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