Autumn of the Seraphs
Touch and Go
ey, you wanna check out this band tonight?”
“Sure, Ian—what do they sound like?”
“Um…they’re kinda indie rock?"
This shouldn’t ever happen considering I’ve dedicated tens of thousands of words in the pursuit of describing what bands sound like. And yet it goes down just about every week. There’s just a certain mental paralysis that takes place when confronted with a group of 3-6 white Americans with guitars and drums; I'll never forget an article I read in my college newspaper where the author professed his love of "indie rock bands like Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and the White Stripes."
So with that in mind, I feel destined to sell Pinback short since they’ve got the fewest frills of just about any band on the indie landscape and Autumn of the Seraphs sounds remarkably similar to their previous album (and the ones before that) on a surface level. No strings, no horns, no fake British accents, no reverb; every drum machine snap and papery bray from Rob Crow sounds ziplocked. In fact, it's not until the final track, the dirgey "Off By 50" that they suggest they’ve ever owned effects pedals. By this point, you've been conditioned to overlook a band as established and subtle as Pinback and as if to hammer that point home more thoroughly, they were put head-to-head against the day-glo conspicuous likes of the Go! Team, Animal Collective, and Kanye West on its release date.
But there’s usually more than meets the ear about their aural illusions, and they’ve gotten more overt about sticking in some genuine pop missives into their lattices of clean guitars and metronomic drums. It was at Staples of all places where I heard “Fortress” wedged between Al Green and Kelly Clarkson like it was no big deal. Autumn of the Seraphs, though lacking Summer in Abaddon’s sense of autumnal (really) reminiscence, is Pinback's most diverse and immediate platter. It's got their most tunnel-visioned rocker (opener "From Nothing to Nowhere"), most direct pop number ("Good to Sea" recalls early-00's Barsuk played entirely on bass guitars) and most dramatic build-up ("Walters").
In spite of all the "mosts," it's still unquestionably Pinback since, and I mean this non-pejoratively, these would sound completely awful on an acoustic guitar. This is a true work of a band playing as a machine, or more pointedly, a game of Mouse Trap; you can see all the moving parts and half the fun is being able to pick them apart; see how the sinister, palm-muted riff of "Devil You Know" pushes everything along as Crow circumnavigates a tricky melody over descending piano or "Barnes" folding over itself as the chant-like coda reveals itself as a true hook after so much strange bait.
And really, "puzzled" is the best way to describe Crow's lyrics as well as his musicianship. The last album began with laments of posting to dead message boards and ended up with a song taking its title from computer speak, and while Autumn of the Seraphs isn't as overt, it's just as based in the concept of modern life not being rubbish, or, as Bloc Party inelegantly put it, "crosswords and Sudoku." It's codes and puzzles, yes, but equal parts mundanity and wonder—is "Barnes" really about the self-sacrifice of a Vietnam vet? Is "Good to Sea" a wistful kiss-off? Wouldn't the brash chords of "Subbing For Eden" inspire a bloated epic in a less surehanded band's hands? Odds are, no one knows except Crow, but in the best way possible, Pinback's intricate Swiss timing is the kind of thing that sounds best when you're just looking to have the day go by.