Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place – You’re Doomed. Be Nice.

I like my Rob Crow music reined in.

If you recognize his name, I probably don’t have to explain who he is; if you don’t recognize his name, I suspect you won’t recognize anything he’s been involved in. Most notably, Rob Crow was half of Pinback, a band that released three incredible records and two great EPs (from 1999-2004) before their output and quality tapered off. Crow also recorded at a feverish pace under the banner of a number of other projects, including Thingy and Optiganally Yours, and under his own name. In other words, the dude was involved in enough musical projects to have his own little scene in San Diego.

Rob Crow’s one of those musicians that other musicians seem to fall in love with. Even the mumbly-screamy dude from Deftones had a crush on him and dragged him into the studio for his solo project.

Something happened after that incredible golden period, though. Crow gained a lot of weight really quickly, ran into financial troubles (an understandable predicament for a guy who makes his career as a musician), and the quality of the music suffered. The solo work took on a frantic, scattered, demo quality, even more tangential and short-attention-span-ish than it was to begin with. Recently, he announced that he was sort of done with the selling-his-music thing, and I thought that would be that.

But now he’s back, he’s lost a hundred pounds or some such, and he’s making music that sounds fresh and inspired. Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place is a collection of his friends, and for once, Crow isn’t playing every single instrument on the record. That said, it hardly sounds like a band, in that the instrumentation isn’t far off from what you’d expect if you were already familiar with Crow’s work. Instead, it feels like what the other players bring to the record is restraint, both in tight rhythm arrangements, and also in Crow’s ideas. There are a couple of songs that bounce around with a manic, scatterbrain approach (e.g. “Light On”), but for the most part, the songs linger long enough for you to appreciate the musical ideas at play. The restraint seems almost freeing to Crow, who has fewer layers of instrumentation to work with, and thus he leaves a negative space in the music that’s been so desperately missing from his music for years.

So as far as Crow’s output goes, this is more enjoyable for me than anything he’s done in over a decade. Tracks like “Autumnal Palette” and “What We’ve Been Up To While You’ve Been Away” are moody and focused and nicely melancholy. Still, the main drawback to solo work is that it all hinges on one person. Crow’s contributions to Pinback were typically the energy, the anxiety, the more narrative bits of lyricism, and all that is present here; this is guitar music that gleefully borrows from pop, metal, and folk. But the other half of Pinback, Armistead Burwell Smith IV (that’s really his name), added the most emotive sections and the simple, catchy melodies. Without Smith’s contributions, without the reflective interludes between the ornate parts, I always feel like Crow’s stuff comes off a little cold and technical, and that’s again the case here.

Overall, I’m not sure how much more I’ll have this on rotation, but it’s certainly got me hopeful for the next Rob Crow record. Or, better, a return to form for Pinback.

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