Something we don’t get a lot of these days is an album of instrumentals; that’s what we have here with the debut album from Pinball, entitled ‘Pinball’! The band consists of Australians Melissa Cox on violin and Alex Stuart on guitar along with French bandmates, bass player Ben Brody and drummer Simon Clavel. The band are based in Paris, which is where this album was made. The band is quite hard to define in terms of their sound. They think of themselves as a “post-rock instrumental” band but there are definite elements of Americana in much of what they do. ‘Skies’ is a beautiful piece, evocative of wide-open spaces and the haunting landscapes you associate with the prairies or a road trip through the arid landscape of southern Arizona. Similarly ‘Flight’ sounds like you could be in a small plane on a slightly turbulent trip across the skies or, perhaps, watching a bee as it buzzes around the wildflowers.
This album is really a collection of soundscapes, many of them quite evocative. On the track ‘Pinball’ (yes, we have a band called Pinball performing a track called ‘Pinball’ on an album called ‘Pinball’ – well, it saves on artwork!) the guitar sets the bouncy rhythm of the machine itself as the violin takes on the part of the metal ball as it careers around the circuit. On ‘Here in Your Arms’ there’s a cozy, soporific feel to the music that perfectly suits the title and leaves you feeling relaxed and slightly sleepy. The key to all these tracks is the interplay between the guitar and violin, subtly underpinned by the steadiness of the rhythm section. There is great virtuosity on display here within the band, it’s a very tight unit and really gels well. Alex Stuart’s guitar work is excellent, whether he’s playing acoustically or a full-bore electric guitar with all the effects and Melissa Cox is the icing on the cake, producing some wonderful playing and getting an incredible range of sounds from her instrument. On the track ‘Skies’ it sounds like someone is playing a quite plaintiff harmonica at one point but, on close listening, you realise it is the violin but the difference is incredibly subtle. It’s Cox’s violin that brings the folk/Americana feel to some of the tracks. On ‘Late Nights’ her playing sounds almost Celtic by the end of the track and she is obviously widely influenced in her playing styles. Musically this is a very good band indeed.
Now for the downside. Some of the tracks are quite repetitive and several bear close resemblance to each other. Even after listening to the album several times it was difficult to distinguish some of the tracks and, after a while, it does start to sound like background music. Now, it’s not elevator or lobby music; it’s most definitely way above that – but it is music that drops into the background after a time. It reminded this reviewer most of a film soundtrack and that may well be where the band’s future lies – in composing and playing for film and video. This is all about textured sound rather than songs that stay in the memory. The band are creating images and emotions through the music they play but there’s not a lot of variation in pace and much of the dynamics within these tracks come from the violin work – there are few recognisable riffs or melodic hooks to hang onto; you’re not going to come away from listening to the album humming any of the tunes.
It’s a reasonably enjoyable album but you have to wonder if there are enough people listening to music of this nature to give the band a sustainable future. I hope there are because they are extremely good at what they do but you can’t help but feel it has a limited appeal.