Unlike many Pinback devotees, I wasn't immediately smitten with the duo's notable musical prowess and appreciation of acicular melodies. In fact, I'm still not sure that I fully understand what makes the clubs fill up when Pinback headlines, or why kids spill their guts about the band on Internet message boards. Criticize Pinback and you're sure to get an earful in your inbox shortly thereafter.
Pinback's music is tricky business. Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV aren't ordinary musicians and their musical output is anything but predictable, but there's nothing particularly extraordinary as to how the band creates its music. As is the case with most of rock's nefarious sub-genres, guitars, bass, piano, drums and even an occasional drum machine combine with breathy vocals to create the capricious tunes found on Summer in Abaddon. It's quite a treat to hear the duo create such refreshingly original music with rock's "standard" instruments.
Longtime Pinback followers shouldn't be surprised by Abaddon's contents. The gorgeous vocals and dense layers of laid-back rhythms that characterized previous releases haven't been displaced; in fact, they've been fleshed out to their fullest extent to date, with a heavier emphasis on vocal melodies. It's the band's best balance between musicianship and melody, proving that there's still plenty to be said for -- and by -- Pinback.
Whether you're new to Pinback's unusual state of mind or you've been pissin' your pants in anticipation of Summer in Abbadon, it's best to skip straight to the middle of the CD. "Fortress" has everything that you expect from a well-written song: beautifully plucked guitar notes weave through a tight drum machine beat as a warm bassline shoulders the tempo. The vocals are eerily fascinating, playing off a guitar line that acts as a guide. The whispered words are clean, crisp and fragile, creating a stirring, sophisticated masterpiece. "3x0" follows a similar blueprint, falsetto vocals introducing the track over a swooning rhythm. There's a delicate piano riff midway through, reminding us of the duo's musical diversity while tidily wrapping up the song's disparate strands.
Don't get the impression that Pinback's music is flimsy; it's more like a passive-aggressive girlfriend. She's full of smarts and sweetness, but when things don't go her way, she'll swiftly unload her anger. It may not be in the shape of a caterwauling maniac, but you'll definitely feel its wrath. While there's plenty of beauty and pop-smarts embedded in these tracks, there's also an underlying current of angular post-rock. The nerdily-titled "AFK" punches through the haze with big drums and shimmering guitar chords. High-pitched vocals shriek-sing, "Nobody uses the phone anymore!", slicing through any preconceptions of frailty. "Soaked" brings to mind the late Elliott Smith with its depressing streak of terrifyingly charming melodies and minor-key mystique. The repetitive piano riff on "The Yellow Ones" is almost funereal in nature, but Pinback balances the tune's morose mood with swirling electronics and sprightly singing.
I'm particularly drawn to the deliciously intoxicating guitar rhythm on opener "Non-Photo Blue", which exhibits the band's smarter-than-you musical skills as it toys with a riveting time signature and jazz-savvy changes. As the guitar picking incorporates occasional harmonic rings, geeky crooning drills a harmony into your head. Good luck trying to count along to the beats! It's not a Brubeck composition, though, so your brain will eventually make sense of all of the changes.
I've probably played these tunes 30 times over and I think I've finally seen the light. I understand what the big deal about Pinback is. The problem is, it's much more difficult to describe what makes Pinback so wonderful. You're best off sampling a few tracks with an open mind, attempting to wrap your brain around Pinback's multifaceted, non-formulaic pop.