Directly after the cover of Pinback's photographically dense lyrics booklet, there is a certain image that I consider of extreme relevance to the rest of this tight, ten-track album. It's a picture of a staircase set in arid yellow stone, one that leads downwards into an old underground bunker. This image, along with a similar and intrinsically linked photo at the end of the booklet, tells me one thing: This is actually a concept album. I didn't realize it at first, but across the 42-minute duration of this disc, Pinback undergo a passage of sorts, whereby they descend into, and ascend from out of, a metaphorical Abaddon.
The most relevant definition for the term "Abaddon" is basically "the bottomless pit", or "the abyss". But it's not Hell per say, and that's where the "metaphorical" part comes in. Pinback's Abaddon is not torturous hellfire; it's about stagnation, inertia, and missed opportunities. But as everyone who has experienced these things knows, the two definitions are pretty darn close. Going by the aforementioned photograph, the beginning of this album takes the band (and you, the listener) straight down into its loathsome depths. But the music doesn't represent this - and it's not supposed to. The lyrics do that part; each line is almost painstakingly retold, marked by constant stoppage ("Tongue tied. Couldn't talk. / Haven't lost. Haven't cured at all"), as word-by-word they paint out the drag of indolence and the fight to escape it. The music, however, is much different. It's a Dante-esque guide (ala Virgil), a benevolent and calming force that steers you safely through the netherworld.
"Non Photo-Blue" kicks into action. The guitars begin their precise, ceaseless rhythms. The drums enter on cue, and Crow/Smith's (you never really know, but apparently Smith does most of the vocal work) calming, melodic voice unfurls. It's the perfect introduction. Each instrument seems locked in with the other, and like a skeleton of musical notes all coiled together, everything simply moves as one. "Sender" follows up with a calming piano roll and takes up the exact same formula, but provides an entirely different and equally as moving song. In "Syracuse", Smith and Crow chant against succumbing to the ever-ebbing flow of life and death, with "I step down into sand/Water carries us from here/I'm fightin' this assignment/I'm wishin' we fall into the well".
The pace slows down a bit with "Blood's On Fire", a somewhat less compelling tune that fails to meet the standard of its first three predecessors. Fortunately, it's followed up by an exemplary track. Pinned appropriately at the exact center of the album, "Fortress" chalks out with scrupulous detail the vicious force of apathy and inertia. It covers the challenge to rise up and do something with your life (Sat shiver in bed/You and a test of will"), laziness ("Another delay. Too many hassles") and the negative attitude that it promotes ("Summer is only winter with you"). When what I believe is the catchiest chorus of the album comes in, frustration hits its peak. Here, we are at the lowest point of Abaddon. From this point onward, the lyrics take on a more positive and confident note, as the band ascends back toward the surface they descended from.
Over the course of the next three tracks, Pinback gift us with an awesome arrangement of sound, always promoting an atmospheric deluge of minor electronic ambience, background rhythm, and a symbiotic guitar and bass relationship. "The Yellow Ones" steers the journey forward with more sound instrumentals, featuring a far more prominent piano line, and an absolutely serene chorus; where a beautiful harmony between Smith and Crow alongside a wistful electronic whistle cheers me up without fail. Lyrics like "A bright light over the horizon" and "Home ahead" remind us again of the conceptual journey undertaken throughout the album.
The final track comes from out of nowhere, and is a sharp contrast against the more somber and contemplative tracks before it. It couldn't have been a more perfect ending. A steady rock n' roll drum figure breaks into action. Guitars pound alongside it. Confidence and activity is at its apex. There is one last moment of reluctance ("Too scared to look at what I hear outside") and then the screamed-out chorus puts everything to rest: "Protect. Embrace. Engulf./Remember the summer in Abaddon." Prompting us to remember our times of darkness so as to never revisit them. A call to "Release the riggings" is sounded, and the journey into (and out of) Abaddon is over.
When you turn the page after the lyrics for "AFK", you are met with the photo I mentioned at the beginning of this review. However, instead of a staircase leading down into a dark underground, the staircase is leading up into the open, and a promising blue sky hangs overhead. What Pinback have created here is an album to fight off that lack of motivation that sometimes curses us all. They've created music to soothe those moments of disappointment in our lives, and something to calm the restlessness of that hour before your shift at work. Looking back at what I've written, I realize I've done a hell of a lot more than I originally intended. But then, I suppose that's the point of Summer In Abaddon.
9.0 / 10
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Posted July 10, 2014, 7:47 a.m.
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