Pinebender LP=demonstration quality sonics

It's been a very long time since I have reviewed a recording with sonics in mind, but there's one that I think rock devotees should seek out: "Things Are About to Get Weird," by Pinebender.

For the unfamiliar, Pinebender is a Chicago-based trio of very strong repute. They are, not to mince words, big, loud and slow. But not sludge-y, like those downtuned bands can get. They play rock, and rock with pace. That pace is just .... well .... slow. Great songs and songwriting, with lyrics that are usually about pain, this is a magnificent band.

The entire catalog is worth seeking out, with the group's best recording being "The Price of Living Too Long With A Single Dream."

The disc in question, however, "Weird," is notable because Steve Albini was the recording engineer. This man is devoted to analog in a way that makes all but the most Druid-like turntable devotee here seem like a piker. And his recordings are, as regards quality, almost always amazing. So he was turned loose on Pinebender.

I have seen Pinebender many times, and there isn't a lot to say except that this recording sounds like the band. I regret having sold my Carver Amazings for the simple reason that I would LOVE to have had the opportunity to crank the volume to the stratosphere with this recording, and recreate a Pinebender set in my listening room. The sonics are that true.

The spatial perspective is preserved, in that rather than one, GIANT drum set, the drum kit is in perspective to the rest of the band, which arrays itself from left to right, with front man Chris Hansen is always on the left as you face the stage. So it is here.

The opener, "There's a Bag of Weights in the Back of My Car," starts out slowly, with a simple strummed guitar motif. The four simple notes of that instrument bloom and decay, with all of the nasty overtones of an instrument amplified to within an inch of its life. Even played softly, an overdriven guitar sounds different -- on edge, almost, with a hefty burr to each plucked note.

Then the other guitarist, Matt Clark, comes in with these sort of sustained atmospherics that are eventually augmented by the gentle kick drum/cymbal attack of Stephen Howard. For the band it would be pianissimo, for you classical music fans.

The tension builds until the sound explodes, the simple 4-note motif repeating, building in volume in a way that makes you think the entire song is going to implode, assuming your ears survive the onslaught long enough for you to hear the implosion.

And in that melee, the three performers occupy the space they exist in, with none of the wandering or (for lack of a better word) goopiness attendant to rock recordings, where the performers, on the artificial soundstage, could be anywhere. Spatial cues are preserved, along with the amazing tonality of each instrument.

Live, Pinebender overdrives the room with volume, so that things ring, amplifiers do things the maker might not have intended, presenting a big, percussive snarl. How Albini captured this without any distortion or mess I will never know, but he did. The cymbals make that remarkable "splash" sound that you so rarely hear on a recording of real music (as diffrentiated from audiophile stuff), and never hear on a full-on ROCK recording.

Albini gets better drum sound from his Shellac recordings, just because he has gotten more adept at capturing it, but this drum sound, particularly the kick drum and cymbals, is remarkable. As the drummer moves across the kit, there is a real sense of precisely where each drum is, preserved even through the overdriven chaos of Hansen and Clark dropping chords and notes like bombs.

Then Hansen comes in with the song's only lyrics: "I can't decide why I'm who I hate/I can't decide why I'd let it go," repeated before it becomes the calling card for another bout with sonic armageddon in a variation on the four-note theme, the music pushing, pulling, droning and sustaining itself, before being allowed to dissolve into atmospherics that are almost like the ringing, palpable aftermath of the band's excesses. A pick is dragged firmly across strings to create a guttural note that is sustained, echoed by the return of that four-note motif.

Hansen's vocals sound like a man singing into a microphone, and he's right. There. There's the slightly nasal undertone he carries, and you can hear the way he likes to sing with his mouth very close to the microphone. It makes a sound that's almost like him singing with his hands cupped when live, a sound that is preserved here.

It's a brilliant piece of music, that is captured in demonstration-quality sound. And when I say "demonstration quality," I don't mean suitable for showing off an audio system (though it is), but rather a recording that demonstrates how a band IS, playing as it plays, at its remarkable peak.

You can go to YouTube and hear the song, and even there, through your computer speakers, it will sound very good. But the LP is just remarkable. They only made 200, and it saddens me that you can still get them, just because this band deserves fame and this is a 1999 recording.

I ordered one from the label, Lovitt Records, and found another, new one via If you like rock, recorded in glorious, larger-than-life fidelity, you should track one down. It's a 2-LP set, and "Bag of Weights" takes up 3/4ths of the first side.

The vinyl quality isn't up to the level of the recording, but after a good cleaning, things should be delightful. And even if they weren't I wouldn't care, because this is one of the best rock recordings, musically and sonically, that I have heard in a very long time.

Thanks for reading.