Weekend Listening: This is a Pinback CD by Pinback
Album: This is a Pinback CD by Pinback
Released: October 12, 1999 by Ace Fu Records
Recommended if you like: deceptively simple, beautiful lullabies you can dance to
Notable Tracks: “Tripoli,” “Shag,” “Loro,” and “Crutch”
When you meet someone new you can be whoever you want to be. Go out to a bar, let someone buy you a drink, and you can be the most charming version of yourself, or the moodiest, or the funniest. Dance on the bar, then go home and pull on a cardigan, put on Parenthood, and be the quieter, sweeter self that feels more comfortable. There’s a freedom in not caring what the stranger you left behind is thinking.
Meet someone new and keep him around, sit beside him in a bar you love and always go to, laugh your real laugh and smile your real smile, and you’ll get to know a version of yourself as he slowly pencils it in. For each little bit of yourself you give out, he adds a line or two to his image of you, and you can see it play out across his face.
If you both love music, one of the most sensitive of these little bits is the first record you ever bought.
You have to be careful with that one, because that’s something you really love. That’s something that not everyone is going to care about, and when you share something that close to someone that new, if he doesn’t at least appreciate it the image you’re drawing of him is going to smudge.
So what you do is go with him to see Clair Morgan Is and Is Not a Band, feel super in love with your friends and their music, then take him home and play him your first vinyl, a double album set of two Heavy Vegetable LPs. Risk taker, handing over something with roots over a decade long. But this time you’re surprised, because he not only listens to it the way you first did, but recognizes the lead vocalist and takes over your record player to play you one of his favorite albums, This is a Pinback CD from the same man, different band.
After playing in this little-known band Heavy Vegetable in the 1990s, Rob Crow went on to be in a bunch of bands and projects, one of which was Pinback, formed primarily with Zach Smith in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is a Pinback CD, their debut album, carries the brand of sound that threads through Heavy Vegetable and Crow’s other projects.
From the moment the long drive opening track, “Tripoli,” came over the speakers I put my hand over my mouth. Minimal drums, clearly delineated and catchy guitar, though chill stuff for sure, but then these voices, these two fucking voices, come in and mix inside the simplicity of the guitar and transform that track into something gorgeous. Throughout this album, the vocal tracks consistently seem both embedded down in the instrumentals but also the forefront of any given track. Subtle, pure, never showy or domineering, the voices on this album speak about fearing death and child abuse and never forgetting lost loved ones with the most comforting cooing that almost belies the weight of the lyrics.
Often supplementing those heavy lyrics are vocalizations that are seriously inherent to the beauty of the album. A song like “Loro” would literally be more akin to one of those heartbeat baby lullaby situations than a song without the beauty of those voices, because after that first 4/4 nothing fucking changes in the instrumentals except like five seconds of squeaky percussion bonus noise. Nothing, except that you barely notice because the repetitive bass becomes soothing with the waves of Crow and Smith crooning about the ripped ones or vocalizing a double time beat for about half the song.
Still, though, the vocals wouldn’t be as compelling if not for the layering of sounds in each track. Part of what turns these songs beautiful is the play between the guitar, bass, and vocals. Because Smith and Crow never grandstand with any instrument, the sounds intertwine into a more fluid sound track to track rather than a vocally heavy chorus here and a guitar solo here inside one single track. When everything is so pulled back, the listener is more noticeably directed to pay attention to this guitar riff or that vocal repetition, but the direction is so gently given the overall harmonious feel is never really broken.
Listening to this album is both peaceful and complicated. Breaking through that haze has to be willful, because it’s so pleasant to be carried along, but one of strengths of this album is its malleability. You can dance along to “Crutch” or “Hurley,” doing that slow smile head bob thing that’s the way all the cool kids dance at shows. You can do a cha-cha step to the chorus of “Shag” and make your friend laugh at the absurdity of dancing to lyrics about pushing a baby down the stairs. But, just as naturally, you can sing the words to “Tripoli” into his ear while he taps your foot like a pedal, plays the bass line out on your hipbone, and draws a little more of the picture of you, the part of you where you both loved the first albums you showed one another.