Sometimes an album is just good enough to make you realize it's not very good. Autumn of the Seraphs is one of those albums. Pinback has some genuinely interesting ideas, but they're mired in mediocre songwriting, weak lyrics, and bad production.
Autumn of the Seraphs reminds me of early Death Cab for Cutie. Sure, there were some good ideas on those first few Death Cab CDs, but they were mired in mediocre songwriting, weak lyrics, and bad production. Things clicked for DCfC somewhere around their third album. Pinback has already released more than three albums, but something tells me this is as "clicked" as they're going to get. It's a shame, because they come close to making some special music. They just never figure out how to get past the mediocrity and let the greatness shine.
Not to harp on Death Cab comparisons, but Pinback reminds me of a half-baked Postal Service. While Jimmy Tamborello's electronic layers bring a warmth and humanity to the Postal Service, Zach Smith and Rob Crow's synths and drum machines are as cold as the worst 80s new wave bands. It's not the kind of coldness that Kraftwerk or Depeche Mode mastered, for both of those bands succeeded in finding the hearts that lived within the machine; no, Pinback's music is cold in the way Human League was cold -- they're cold because they're not good enough to be anything else. The best thing I can say about Autumn of the Seraphs -- and it truly is a good thing -- is that the layers of instrumentation and vocals occasionally create some wonderful melodies and counter-melodies.
Like the music, the artwork is a one-dimensional portrayal of a scene that should have some depth. The cover art reminds me of Narnia, if it had been created by a writer who lacked the humanity to find the warmth hidden amidst its frigid landscapes.
Listen if you like: early Death Cab for Cutie, Matt Pond PA, slightly better-than-average indie rock. If you liked the jaggedness of the first few Police albums but find the warmth and soul of that band offputting, this should be right up your alley.
If it were food, it'd be: A processed milkshake from a fast-food joint.