You ever hear a song from an artist that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention and think to yourself, “how did this not explode?” For me, that sentiment pretty much sums up the whole discography of Pinback, an indie rock trio out of San Diego that achieved modest recognition in the mid-2000s while The Shins, Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire swam in it. And look — honestly I don’t mean to put down those bands. Rather, I offer Pinback as a reminder that memory is often imperfect and unyielding to new information.
See, when I think back to the days of scruffy, interchangeable-looking white dudes fronting plucky indie acts — the early-aughts of “blog rock,” you know — those names are still among the first that come to mind. Many years after I loaded Wincing the Night Away on my iPod, I discovered Pinback — and thus an entire body of work seemingly made for me, that I didn’t know I lived through.
I find listening to Pinback to be a lonely experience for two reasons. First, I have yet to meet anyone in person I could talk about their music with, which is sort of isolating in its own way. Second, that music is actively, chillingly lonely. There are so many Pinback songs worth highlighting here to explain what I mean, but I’ll go for the one that makes the hair on my neck stand the tallest: “BBTone” off 2001's Blue Screen Life.
What always floors me when I listen to this song is how much the band’s co-songwriters Zach Smith and Rob Crow do with so little. There’s a real sense of foreboding here, between their vocals trading off, the warmth of the guitar and the vaguely lullaby-like cadence of the chorus; a textural intricacy complex and delicate all at once. It might not sound so desperate, if not for the song-ending refrain of “hands from the sky rip, rip, rip me open” amid cries of “suffer again” soaring in the background. (I happened to get into Pinback right around when I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion for the first time, and the two are suitably, inextricably linked in my brain, mostly thanks to lyrics like those.)
All this makes “BBTone” either the best or worst song to listen to when you’re having a bad day, depending on how you prefer to self-medicate. You can only guess which side I fall on; nothing hits quite like it on a drive before dawn.