Pinback takes Ecclesiastes to heart: for core members Zach Smith (Armistead Burwell Smith IV) and Rob Crow, there isn’t much new under the sun. What Pinback music was, so Pinback music shall be; forever and ever, amen. Another album of such thoroughly trademarked music would be for some bands a redundancy, but in the hands of these two, it’s a confident redoubt of identity. There’s comfort and familiarity in these songs, but Information Retrieved doesn’t feel like an album written by a band that ran out of ideas and decided that self-imitation was the surest route to creative output. No—Pinback are too transparent for that. And for a band with more than a decade behind them (though they do take their sweet time with releases), there’s a venerable quality to the consistency of their oeuvre. All Rothkos look about the same, do about the same things to your eyes. But they draw you in still, wash over you still.
So it is with Pinback. Three decidedly good albums (Blue Screen Life had “Penelope,” my first indirect exposure to Pinback via Saosin’s cover some years ago, but not a lot else going for it), three testaments to Smith’s deft, flexible bass playing and Crow’s choppy riffs and ear for beats and melody. Several canonical indie rock songs, “Loro” and “Fortress” preeminent among them. There are a few ringers here, too. Opener and single “Proceed to Memory” is a disarmingly profound rocker, a meditation wearing whoa-ohs and uncharacteristically fuzzy chords, about the way our bodies ultimately betray our minds: “Soon all you’ll have is the memory and then you won’t even have that memory.” No energetic structure belies the bleak content of “True North,” which slouches toward environmental destruction (the “crust of the earth is flaking off”) and a droning, defeated refrain: “This is the number. Please look it over. Everything else is just a distracter. Shrugging extinction off.”
But Pinback also have an uncanny ability to balance that kind of lyrical affect (and excellent musicianship) with so many listless non-sequiturs that these songs rarely have a subject or theme, “Proceed to Memory” notwithstanding. On “Drawstring,” which features some of the best grooves on the record, Crow sings “When you’re so close to heaven, I’ll help you take that dive. I might fall, I might break down, but no one can outstyle you there.” Thankfully, that was never really the point with Pinback. Dylanesque narratives aren’t in their cards. Information Retrieved’s value lies in its stark denial of what fashionable indie rock is these days; it’s an admirable and frustrating time warp to the days when Sunny Day Real Estate were cutting edge. It delivers precisely and only what it could: nihil novi.