From the title alone, you can draw two possible conclusions about Pinback’s fourth full-length album Autumn of the Seraphs: The San Diego rockers are either shifting toward Christian rock or they’re delving deeper into the mystical, duel-harmony shtick that made them so popular in the first place.
It’s not Christian rock, but it’s also not the everyday Pinback effort. Sure, there’s the usual lightness of early songs like “Penelope” from Blue Screen Life and “Fortress” off Summer in Abaddon. But the album also shows a side to Pinback no longer satisfied by solely filling albums with tracks that pluck their way into people’s minds for days.
Still, the band knows its strengths. The vocal pairing of Armistead Burwell Smith IV (Zach) and Rob Crow has always been Pinback’s biggest asset. The first track, “From Nothing to Nowhere,” sits well in the Pinback canon. It shoots out of the gate with a frantic guitar riff and the muted vocals that have come to define the band. The typical, simplistic instrumentation is counteracted by the airy vocals. “Good to Sea” works similarly with quick melodies, but this time the newfound electronic poppiness makes the song even more addicting than the album opener.
“Walters” works as a bridge between the band playing it safe – with routine, catchy harmonies – and attempting to show a harder edge juxtaposed against an underused piano. The song’s a little angsty during portions of the lyrics (“Anyone else would slit from sleeve to shoulder / Anyone else would not deserve your life”), but even so, the beautifully bizarre imagery of a man floating in the sky in a lawn chair with balloons trumps everything: “Larry climbs into his lawn chair, waves her goodbye / Unties from the post, races towards the sky / Takes a sip out of his beer and says it looks amazing.” The piano plucks blend effortlessly into scalpel-sharp guitar that shows the band still has a few quirky surprises. “Devil You Know” also works well with the piano, playing off the vocals to create a surprisingly solemn number that may not function on normal Pinback customs but still feels at home.
Sometimes breaking out of expected musical tendencies can backfire. “Off By 50” has a grinding solo guitar intro disrupting the overall lightness of the album before running into numbingly repetitive squealings of “separate the world!” “Barnes” suffers a similar defeat with a jerky bass line mirrored by equally twitchy vocals that aren’t far off from Weird Al. And sometimes the lyrics are too esoteric to be considered poetry by even an existential high schooler. Take “Bouquet”: “It’s sucking on the more than worthless / Swept under the blanket / That’s where you met me / It’s bleeding innocent all over / In a sense that matters / Always just empty.”
Despite the occasional struggles in experimentation, Autumn of the Seraphs isn’t, overall, a misstep. It would work better as an EP than a full-length, but Pinback didn’t completely throw out its old tendencies, instead choosing to hold onto what brought it its following in the first place.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Autumn of the Seraphs
Touch and Go