Summer in Abaddon

(Touch & Go; 2004)

By Sean Ford | 15 November 2007

Pinback’s last effort, the Offcell EP (2003), blew me away. It was a jaw-dropping collection of smart, immediate, insanely dynamic and melodic rock. It was one of those records I played incessantly and insatiably. Featuring crisp, melodic guitars, harmonizing vocals, smart beats, and truly catchy and double-take inducing key changes that boldly demanded repeated investigations, the EP was short (though, at 30 minutes, more substantial than quite a few albums) but incredibly sweet.

I’m not quite sure how it got so roundly ignored. Perhaps its because it was an EP, and EPs look so icky on our precious year end lists (though that didn’t stop TV on the Radio). Perhaps it was due to the relative obscurity of Absolutely Kosher---the label that released it (though that same label put out The Wren's 2003 critical favorite The Meadowlands). The fact is, Pinback always seems to be one of those bands, like the Wrens before last year’s explosion, for whom things never quite work out for as far as mass exposure goes. They always seem so close to being the next big thing, yet just miss the nirvana that acceptance would supposedly bring.

With the release of Summer in Abaddon on indie heavy-lifter Touch and Go Records this year, I was kind of secretly hoping that Pinback would explode onto the indie nation’s consciousness like a sperm-stained blue dress with their special brand of brainy and joyful, yet melancholy sonic precision. Alas, whether that will happen isn’t immediately clear.

While Summer in Abaddon features Pinback’s by now trademarked sound and cryptic lyrics with a few nice developments, it falls victim to a sort of malaise of consistently indistinguishable mid-tempo rockers on the second half of an album that starts very strongly. See, this isn’t a very fair criticism because the songs are still quite good; unfortunately, they just criminally ignore Pinback’s advanced understanding of songwriting dynamics that grace Offcell and the first half of Summer in Abaddon.

Opener “Non Photo-Blue” and “Sender,” which follows, are vintage Pinback, featuring subdued vocals, syncopated drumming, high-in-the-mix bass lines that feel Police-esque and guitars that sputter rhythms in multiple keys and directions at the drop of the hat. Pinback starts off things in top form and matters only improve by the time the stuttering, descending guitar riff of “Syracuse” ebbs in and out of the speakers. If I could play any Pinback song to convince a trepidatious listener of all of Pinback’s might and potential, “Syracuse” would be that song. Featuring intertwining melodies and rhythms, it is one of smartest and catchiest rock songs I’ve heard this year.

Taken individually, the songs on the second half of Summer are quite good. I’m not sure if the songs in the context of the second half of the album fall victim to track sequencing, similar tempo or what, but they just don’t work as well taken in one dose. To summon the Wrens yet again, this album reminds me of The Meadowlands in the sense that when taken individually the songs are quite stunning but the album as a whole feels somewhat unwieldy.

Album closer “Afk” ends the affair on a more up-tempo and urgent note and reminds that Pinback can really turn a tune if they want. Summer is an album that has an immediately recognizable aesthetic rooted in dynamic songwriting, tasty guitar laid-back riffs and a great understanding of melody. It may not be the album that gives them the exposure they’ve deserved for a while, but it’s close.