Originally published in Punk Planet March/April 2006
Pinetop Seven – Rigging The Toplights
For the better part of two years and change, I worked at my university’s underground radio station, and few records remind me of all those priceless nights and graveyard shifts spent in windowless Student Center bomb shelters like Pinetop Seven’s sophomore outing, a quiet and quietly released disc that ranks among the finest and most overlooked of the last decade.
Written and recorded when the group’s core members still included Charles Kim, Ryan Hembrey and Darren Richard, Rigging The Toplights was made to be floated over invisible airwaves in the middle of a winter night. It’s the perfect medicine for loneliness.
There’s plaintive and heart wrenching ballads, slices of nostalgia and Americana, and acoustic guitar odes that quiver with emotion when Richard unfurls that shaky falsetto.
The mystery of the 13-track disc is how the band crafted songs so pristine, with such a calculated attention to subtle narratives and the most minute details, but made them so startlingly immediate and heartfelt. There’s not a dull moment throughout all the record’s 46 minutes — from the folk-pop road song “The Fear of Being Found” and “Floorboards,” that dark ode to commitment and recovery, to the Morricone shuffle of “Heavens” and the closing-credits resolve of “Quit These Hills.”
And, if you’re not moved to tears when Richard’s voice fades into darkness as he wails “I’ve no use not to hide” in “Drying Out,” well, you’ve just got no soul left.
Hang on St. Christopher through the smoke and the oil: Tom Waits, Real Gone; Shipping News, Flies The Fields; Loren Connors & David Grubbs, Arborvitae; The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band With Choir, “This Is Our Punk-Rock,” Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing; The Vanities, Coma Kiss Demos