This post contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all readers. The material in question includes:

- Bad language
- Sexual and suggestive content
- Mental health topics (autism, loneliness, etc.)
- Violence
- Mentions of historical tragedies
- Mentions of abuse and trauma
- Frightening imagery
- Flashing imagery (for the epileptic)

The medium in question? Music!

Make no mistake, however, for this isn’t any kind of music. I feel like my musical taste would be a cumbersome topic to dedicate an entire entry to, so I might as well take this opportunity to let it rip. See, I hate… um… everything nowadays? Okay, that’s a gross generalization, but what I can say with conviction is that basically everything that’s popular nowadays is trash. It’s like how my parents still look back on growing sick to death of Bob Seger and Laura Brannigan in high school, only today, it’s three quarters more crass and three quarters less intelligent (you sit there and tell me the music video for “Self-Control” isn’t surreal, masterfully constructed nightmare fuel!) I’ll never give someone a hard time over liking Taylor Swift, but that’s not say I haven’t had my patience pushed over the borderline from hearing her name every ten seconds, and it doesn’t help that everything I’ve heard by her (which is more than I’d ever like to own up to) is painfully generic and has little to no range beyond “don’t mind the haters” and “it’s over between us”. It’s like the Barbie movie of music in terms of general audience accessibility.

Yes, I know I’m probably underestimating the true extent of that fanbase’s loyalty. If I get shanked in my sleep tonight, my whole debit balance goes to whoever volunteers to help walk my neighbor’s dogs for me.

I grew up hearing lots of… let’s call it very interesting music, and radically different from what my sisters listened to at the same age. We still have home videos (most of which are buried deep inside one of the five hundred plastic tubs Mom let pile up) of Em and Liv jamming out to covers of “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia” by ABBA. Still, those videos often took place at beach houses in York, Maine—an enduring vacation spot for my family and relatives—and I’ve always linked the earliest music I recall hearing with the earliest places I recall living in. My first two memories took place in York and my old hometown in Pennsylvania, respectively, and the songs I immediately correlate with those places were recorded by an equally obscure bluegrass band to today’s topic called Nickel Creek. Hell, the music video for “The Lighthouse’s Tale”, a song I’ve related to my own experiences on many levels, takes place at Nubble Point, the site in York of the most beautiful lighthouse in the country (two lighthouses stand off the coast of York, Nubble Light being the most beautiful lighthouse I’ve ever seen while Boon Island Light is one of the creepiest, and I’m not just talking about the stories of suicide and cannibalism that surround it!) After that, however? Most of my memories surround my hometown of Exton, and no band has been able to capture the sprawling suburban comfort of that township like Pinback, a gothic indie band from San Diego.

Now, the name Pinback probably sounds like word salad to you, and rightfully so—I never knew what the hell it meant until I was a young adult, when my dad informed me of Dark Star, John Carpenter’s first movie with a secondary protagonist nicknamed Pinback. That should tell you most of what you need to know about the nerdy interests of the band’s two singer-songwriters, Armistead Burwell Smith IV (I know, talk about a fantastic name) and Rob Crow, the latter of whom has also released albums like If You Wanted to Qualify for Health Insurance, Then Maybe You Shouldn’t Have Gotten Raped? with the band Anal Trump and Necronomidonkeykongimicon with Goblin Cock. Yes, Goblin Cock. There’s a band name I’m glad I wasn’t aware of during my childhood, because I definitely would’ve gotten into hot water over repeating it at school. Why don’t people know these guys again?

Well, anywho, Crow’s discography outside of Pinback might sound incomprehensibly vulgar, if not absolutely brilliant, but the work he’s done with Smith since they founded the band in 1998 is… well, certainly brilliant, but not a tad bit vulgar. The sound and style they’ve produced are truly unlike any other, and as I’ve learned from other fans of theirs and even demonstrated with my job coach, they’ll stick in your head for longer than you ever thought they could. There’s this cryptic, almost supernatural quality to their music, in a way that’s cemented it as synonymous with specific periods of my life—both my childhood in Pennsylvania and my teenage/adult years in New England. As I’ll get into shortly, there’s practically a Pinback album for every one of these periods, as they each follow a recurring tone and theme and/or evoke specific sets of feelings and memories.

Admittedly, I’ve always had a concern that modern audiences would hear one song on their debut album, turn it off, and say, “That sounded boring.” That’s exactly what they did with “Handlebars” by Flobots, even though the rest of the album (titled Fight With Tools) is one of the best goddamn things you’ll ever listen to! Truth be told, this stuff is my jam due to exploring topics and issues that aren’t as generally relatable. This is because, thanks to my developmental disabilities, I’m just not a generally relatable person. I mean, you have Taylor Swift, and then, you have “November Spawned a Monster” by Morrissey, to which a future entry in this series will be dedicated. One is about something wildly more taboo and socially relevant than the other. Regardless, for the rest of this post, each section until the conclusion will examine the contents of my three favorite Pinback albums, as well as a few other gorgeous songs that capture their stunning atmosphere just the same. Let’s start at the beginning, which was coincidentally also my beginning. Who woulda thunk it?


It’s pretty crazy how many of the things I grew up loving began in the year of my birth. SpongeBob started airing in 1999, the international release of Sonic Adventure was in 1999, and Pinback’s debut album came out in 1999. Guess that means Red Dead Redemption II coming out on my first birthday as a young adult (October 26, 2018) was just another blissful case of poetic irony. It’s important to note with this album in particular that I probably hadn’t listened to it for close to fifteen years until Father’s Day last year, when I shuffled through it before me and my family went out for brunch. For this reason, I’ve dubbed it “the lost album”, and good lord, did replaying it bring back some unexpected feelings. I used to hear these songs so frequently in a location I’d made so many positive associations with that I couldn’t believe I forgot about them, though to be fair, I didn’t know the names or artists of most songs I heard at the time. Either way, this rediscovery instantly elevated this album above my former favorite Pinback album Summer in Abaddon, as it doesn’t contain a single song that I haven’t fallen in love with (for as phenomenal as Summer in Abaddon is, I associate it with far less pleasant memories, and I just don’t like nearly as many songs on it.)

Luckily, the more off-putting qualities of “Charborg” work better in “Chaos Engine”, the song that always sort of haunted me as a kid, but never to the extent that I didn’t like hearing it playing in my dad’s home office as he worked. The song’s verses are mellow enough, but the pulsating percussions and strange backup vocals (case and point, the “eee-ooh!”s and “eee-ah-ooh!”s) set an unnerving tone that far surpasses anything the title alone elicits. Now, sure, “Shag” doesn’t carry the same tone as its predecessor, but it’s one of those songs like “Pumped Up Kicks” that becomes way more unsettling once you understand the lyrics. Even then, though, this song was a joy to rediscover on Father’s Day because Dad’s been repeating the unspeakably morbid lyrics for as long as I can remember.

From there on, however, other songs like “Loro”, “Crutch”, and “Lyon” affect me in strong ways that few other songs have, even compared to “Tripoli”. This is the case with the title of “Crutch”, as well as its theme of nostalgia and recollection in periods of struggle, whereas “Loro” is a perfect downtrodden number to play during periods of depression and “Lyon” is just a beauty to listen to.

Moving on, “Rousseau” may not be the most pleasant or unconventional of Pinback’s discography, but it is notable for starting a trend that would be carried over into other albums like Blue Screen Life: the sampling of dialogue and sound effects from Dark Star, many of which are virtually impossible to understand. Oh, yeah, and also just for being a damn good song overall, as it doesn’t sacrifice the band’s typical gothic atmosphere. Funny enough, the final song, “Montaigne”, sounds like a reprise of “Rousseau” to some extent, especially in the intro, but it still has a uniquely somber, dreamlike sense of wonder to it that makes it a fitting finale to the album… I mean, not as much as “Guns Out” from Young the Giant’s debut album or “On and On and On” from Sky Blue Sky by Wilco, but still fitting nonetheless.


Unfortunately, I have very few, if any, recollections of listening to their 2000 album Some Voices, but one of the songs I started listening to again even more recently than anything on the lost album is “June”, specifically on the album that combines Some Voices with Offcell (aptly titled Some Offcell Voices). This is definitely the longest Pinback song I’ve ever listened to, clocking in at over seven minutes, but at least it incites a strong enough emotional reaction and evolves enough over the course of its length to be worth every one of those seven minutes. It’s long, but it’s still no CCR cover of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” that’s stretched out to eleven minutes when I can just stick with the solid four-minute radio edit.

There’s very few songs that capture the autism experience for me in sound alone, as the song certainly doesn’t seem to be about that, but it does vocalize and elicit the unending sense of confusion and insecurity that comes with it. While some people might argue that the last third goes on a tad too long, it combines those harsh, gloomy percussions with soft backup vocals to create one of the saddest-sounding sequences in music history, so I’m always willing to go along for the ride. The funny thing is, I still haven’t been able to make sense of the final lyrics (“It’s up to the trees with the firestorm”) aside from personal interpretations relating to my failing social life, as the only clear or discernible thought it manages to conjure up for me is the DC superhero Firestorm. You know, music can be really friggin’ weird sometimes.

The more you look into it, the less sense it makes. Kinda like Spirited Away.

Well, it turns out 9/11 wasn’t the only world-changing tragedy in 2001. Just take a look at which albums flew under the pop culture radar! While I’ve always had a very strong soft spot for this album, my dad has a far stronger fondness for it as his self-proclaimed favorite Pinback album. I think a lot of this comes down to the parts of music we love and relate to—as someone who loves watching live performances and trying to master the base tracks of different songs on his own electric base, it’s about the process by which songs are organized and composed in his case, whereas I’m always looking for meaning in the tone and lyrics of the finished product. For this reason, the final song “Seville” is his favorite on the album for the high notes of the digital whirring track towards the end while I connect more with the first song “Concrete Seconds” for its message about being easily misunderstood or villainized in a social setting, as well as the somber urban vibes it produces. I especially love the lyrics about reading the text on a girl’s t-shirt, innocently looking for something to compliment her on, only to get accused of doing so for inappropriate reasons—the resonance only builds when that’s followed by the repeating lyric, “anything I say to you is gonna come out wrong, anyway”.

Even then, though, one song that Dad and I can never argue on is “Penelope”, which I should note is not about a girl with a pig nose. Granted, I always thought it was about a girl in some capacity, and it is… but not a human girl. You know, it’s hard not to joke around about Taylor Swift lately, but just compare her regular output with “Penelope”, a song written about a goldfish. Yes, that’s a story Smith and Crow thought was very important to tell early into this album. You can never fault those fantasy-loving geeks for their originality. Then again, the lyrics do mention “red scales” and “floating upside down on the top of the bowl”, so I guess it shouldn’t take too long to figure out after all.

“It was a lovely little fish! And it went… wherever I… did go!”

For reference, the “Abaddon” that the title refers to is the infernal region of the Hebrew Bible, a bottomless pit of death and destruction, only for the name to be adapted later for an angel who watches over the same bottomless pit in the New Testament. So, in other words, summer in Hell is a bitch, and that’s what Pinback seems devoted to expressing with this album. Deep biblical references aside, however, applying this to a modern-day scenario makes perfect sense, considering even the album cover does that with the bleak imagery of a slender shadow projected over a rusting storm drain.

The only thing to set the tone more effectively than that is the music itself, which may very well be the most… ahem… goth of their music, though I’m talking dreary and low-key goth, not the disturbing world of screamo and death metal. It hits a home run at the very start with “Non Photo-Blue”, which utilizes the same harsh percussions from the last quarter of “June” and features one of my favorite instrumental sequences in any song, beginning at around 2:04 and 2:05, as you simply can’t hear it without feeling like you’re wandering through a misty forest of dead trees. It’s also noteworthy in recent years, with my sister Olivia having heard it playing during at least one Halloween party she went to. It probably surprised me more than it should’ve—I just thought it was reassuring to know this band was getting some of the attention it deserves.

It arguably gets even better with “Sender”, as this is the first time that the theme regarding isolation and returning to civilian life is clearly communicated, as well as the euphoric relief that comes with being reintroduced to the freedom of the outside world. It also hints at the narrator being held in captivity by a controlling individual like I was at Chamberlain during the last verse, as well as the ongoing struggle to adapt to ordinary life during the chorus.

As sad as much of it sounds, “Syracuse” has a similar sense of hope and reinvigoration that’s swiftly abandoned with “Bloods on Fire”. Possibly both the hardest and easiest song of Pinback’s to interpret, this is basically the “Hotel California” of Pinback, a song that’s obviously about witnessing a Satanic ritual. Yes, that is sarcasm. Whatever the hell the Eagles were going for, “Bloods on Fire” is seemingly from the perspective of a deranged killer’s mother or father, detailing their troubled upbringing and the night they come back for their parents.

More than anything, however, much has to be said about the crème de la crème of this album, a little song titled “Fortress”. My family’s adoration for this song stems mainly from its music video, but also from the strange choice I made to pronounce one of its lyrics as “I’m feeling fusta-trated” because my imagination was a free-for-all back then. Equally as strange is that this is one of the few Pinback songs to actually get a music video, let alone a video as well-told and animated as this one. It layers white childlike stick figure characters over a dynamic CGI environment, and all while telling the story of how a king, queen, and their sunlit kingdom were split apart by an earthquake, thrusting the two into an armed conflict in the dark, decaying wasteland they now inhabit. Most importantly of all, however, it features all the soldiers commencing a wonderfully choreographed dance sequence that I’d basically mastered by the third time I watched it, and it ends with an old hag planting a lone flower in the soil, thus beginning the restoration of the world she once knew. Better yet, just watch the video for yourself and ponder why in God’s name so few people have seen it.

I’ll admit, there are other songs on this album like “The Yellow Ones” and “This Red Book”, but I don’t exactly have fond memories of most of them, so the last memorable and resonant song on the album for me comes at the very end, and it truly does compete with “Montaigne” when it comes to ending a Pinback album right: “AFK”. Yes, as in, “away from keyboard”. While this song doesn’t have a music video, as far as I’m aware, it’s noteworthy for many reasons, one being how the lyrics include the title of the album, specifically “remember the summer in Abaddon!” The title certainly seems to refer to the “Summer in Abaddon” in question, feeling cut off and isolated from the rest of the world without even so much as a phone or computer to contact the world through.

Moreover, the majority of the song is fast-paced and intense, with the kind of beat you might imagine playing over a battlefield like the one in the latter half of the “Fortress” video, but the highlight of the song for me (not so much Dad, though, for some reason) starts before the last verse and continues afterward, stretching on through the outro. This sequence is the emotional height of the album for me, as it elicits the helpless longing for freedom from one’s current situation. This hits me like a freight train for obvious reasons, particularly the world and family I was more or less kept from at Chamberlain, which wasn’t helped by the staff’s destructive rhetoric, as I detailed in my Max Payne 3 post. Suffice it to say, it’s not the best song on the album, but it is a perfect finale.

In the case of “How We Breathe”, I like to imagine what a film adaption would look like if I were to write a memoir someday (my current idea for that is a graphic memoir titled Electricity, focusing on my teenage and young adult years), and aside from having already illustrated the cover art for the soundtrack and mocked up the track list, “How We Breathe” is one of those songs I imagine showing up on it. That’s mainly for its title and downtrodden tone, although it’s also one of the few songs from this album that I know for certain I used to hear my dad play in his office with the rest of the Pinback albums discussed thus far.

Another prime example of that is best saved for last, as it’s actually a pretty popular one… or, well, you know… as popular as anything related to Pinback is. What I mean is that it’s probably their biggest hit, and it’s called “Good to Sea” for… some reason. The lyrics go “It’s good to see you; it’s good to see you go,” but it obviously isn’t spelled the right way. Maybe, it’s like Nirvana’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World”, with which they swapped a couple of the lyrics even though it didn’t really change or improve upon anything. What do you think that version being the one everyone knows says about popular music, by the way? Regardless, I derive so much positive emotion and association from this song—much of it relating to Pennsylvania and the video games I grew up with—that I almost feel bad for liking the popular one. But, hey? You know what? It’s Pinback. Not “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, a song I haven’t heard for eight years yet am still sick to death of due to overexposure.

Best to plan ahead for something that may or may not ever come to fruition…

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