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Pinback - Offcell

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Artist: Pinback

Album: Offcell

Label: Absolutely Kosher

Review date: Jun. 11, 2003

On Point

With a little less discipline and restraint, Rob Crow and Armistead B. Smith IV would make great hip hop producers. There's always been an irrepressible funkiness lurking in their music, and if they kept the current incarnation of their rhythm section in place and replaced their hushed melodies about seafaring and isolation with some ass-shaking party rhymes, they could almost instantly have the slightly-intellectual ass-shaking crowd eating out of their hands. But, commendably, the two pseudonym-loving gentlemen of Pinback continue to eschew the Neptunesian route with the dazzling Offcell EP; here and there it transmits wayward moments suitable for the club-hopping honeys, but the overarching focus of the project is once again on the rock.

The Pinback sound, which has not changed in any notable fashion since the group's 1999 self-titled debut, is something like a gentle, lo-fi portrait of a dimly lit and soggy Northwest; the strange dissonance and misplaced yelps of Modest Mouse buried in the fragile framework of Elliott Smith's early songwriting. The livelier feel of songs like "Tripoli" was relatively commonplace on the debut and again on next year's Some Voices EP, but existed alongside others like "Loro" with eerily quiet and melancholy moods. The balance on 2001's Blue Screen Life leaned more toward the hushed and sad while maintaining reflexes of upbeat energy. While both approaches prove enchanting in tandem, the softer songs eventually have a tendency to resemble each other; indeed, though Pinback don't shy too far from their standard fare with Offcell, its return to that mysterious funkiness of yore makes it the most exciting work they've done yet.

The context is the same as it's always been, as openers "Microtonic Wave" and "Victorius D" suggest: languid production, low-mixed vocals, a sort of haze surrounding the whole sound. The bass is thick, the drums steady but thinner, the guitars intricate but timid, piano and organ applied liberally and tastefully. Crow's lyrics are morose as ever too, when you can understand them through their angelic layers of harmony and concurrent alternate murmurs. But then there are little fascinating touches that become increasingly frequent throughout: the jaunty beat of the title track, the uncommonly dominant distortion and bratty white-boy rap of "B," the majestic clomp of the 11-minute "Grey - Machine" which slowly turns itself into a whole other lovely song. By the time the second half of the latter fades away, with the hushed "Pick me up / Take me home / Get me out of here / Please" atop the prophetic refrain of "I'm gonna break," Offcell has traversed an impressive array of moods and emotions without ever sounding forced or contrived.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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