Blue Screen Life


Band: Pinback
Album: Blue Screen Life
Best song: “Offline P.K.” is amazing.
Worst song: “Tres” isn’t all that great.

Blue Screen Life was released during my halcyon days of being the program director at one of the nation’s best college radio stations. It was also released in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 — lots of other crap happening there — and the genius that is the first Strokes record. Lots of hype there. In a fit of complete incompetence, I let the record go to someone other than myself on the music staff and I don’t even remember if it got reviewed. I know it didn’t get the promotion it should’ve.

I’ve probably told the eMusic stories here, but maybe not. eMusic, when it first came into being, had a flat rate for subscriptions and no download limits. So, I downloaded everything I could — after all, this was a legal means — and tucked them away for when I had time. A lot of the records didn’t hit — Joanna Newsom’s first record comes to mind, as does everything from Antony and the Johnsons — but Blue Screen Life did. I sifted it out of the drek and fell in love.

I am not alone in my love of a certain type of guitar work; I love it when bands do an angular thing. Pinback’s early work — their EPs and This is a Pinback CD — emphasis other stuff, but Blue Screen Life is an angular guitar lover’s dream. Where there are Modest Mouse records wherein one can say “wow, that’s angular guitar” or wherein there are reasons for my love of the second Death Cab for Cutie record’s guitar work, Pinback tops all. There is nary a chord struck without math-y arpeggios or riffs. “Bbtone” is all swirly guitars and the calming dueled California vocals of Zach Smith and Rob Crow. “Penelope,” the story of a beloved goldfish, is full of handclaps and a rollicking bassline. “Prog” starts with harmonics and turns into a hard rock angular number, recalling the best of the late 90s Pacific Northwest. Album highlight “Offline P.K.” is the band’s detached best. the song relies on shout-y vocals, a stellar rhythm section and a guitar line that jumps as much as it can.

Blue Screen Life, by critical accounts, is not a particularly good album. Allmusic rates it a 3/5 stars and Pitchfork gave it a 5.4 of 10. I get this. I won’t defense the album’s emotional or storytelling core; the best track on the album is about computers and the lead single is about a goldfish. It’s a perfectly useful album that was succeeded by a far better one.

But, it is a time in place for me. I was tremendously lonely when I fell in love with Blue Screen Life and wasn’t really aware of the depression I was experiencing. For the quiet moments, Blue Screen Life was a welcome respite, a journey into the familiar and peaceful. I loved it at the time, but largely eschewed it after it had done what it needed to. I moved onto other music — Sufjan Stevens, Cat Power, Mastodon, etc. — and Pinback had done what it needed to. I ranked it as no. 40 on my best of the decade list and I feel perfectly comfortable with that. It’s good, but not near the greatness that other albums achieved in the 2000s.

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