Pinback Information Retrieved (Temporary Residence Ltd.)
What can I say about Pinback? Their radiant, craftsman-style indie-rock is unimpeachable. Each song they write is as solid as a slab of precision-cut metal and as tuneful as the Pied Piper's magic flute. Even at their most aloof, songwriters Rob Crow and Zach Smith have a way of making me giddy.
Now, after five years—during which Smith and Crow kept their fans happy with solo albums, side projects and Smith's Three Mile Pilot reunion with Pall Jenkins—San Diego's pride and joy are back with a new album, Information Retrieved. Though you might've expected a blowout after such a long wait, Pinback aren't the bombastic types. This is a fine record, coolly composed almost to a fault.
For die-hard fans and newcomers alike, there's plenty to love about Information Retrieved. The glimmering guitar interplay of "Glide" is rich and melodious, and also striking on a technical level—math-rock geeks should take note. "Drawstring" opens calmly, but swells with a yearning vocal line straight out of the Pinback playbook. Album highlight "True North" is jagged, with bracing guitars and abstract lyrics that allude, oh-so-obliquely, to the image-conscious criticism coming out of North Park's hipster-vs.-frat-boy culture: "You look like such a dick sometimes / Yeah, look who's talking / I know."
But in the album's blander moments, it takes all my concentration to keep focused. While the band was instantly enchanting on 2007's Autumn of the Seraphs—with its dynamic musical range and stirring melodies—this time around, they don't seem quite as excited. With the edges mostly smoothed out, tracks tend to smear together. The piano-led "Diminished" could almost be mistaken for sentimental jazz-fusion, if not for the sharp, heart-clenching finale.
Of course, the album isn't all bleary-eyed—see the tight, bracing vocal harmonies of "His Phase" and the sprightly guitars and bubblegum-popping beat of "Denslow, You Idiot!" Indeed, after 14 years, Pinback have proven to be masters of their craft; many will love Information Retrieved unconditionally, for good reason. But when I listen to it, I don't get that giddy, ecstatic feeling. Instead, I waver between thoughts of I love it! and Eh—sounds good.