“Days Slipping By”- The Haunting Music of The Pine

Long has there existed a seemingly unresolvable (and honestly pointless) cold war regarding what exactly constitutes “real” emo music. The debate seldom makes its way out of the dark, icy reaches of the internet, largely taking place on Blogspot pages, Instagram comments sections and the not always so wonderful world of Reddit. Despite this, the popularity of that ongoing conversation and the ensuing memes have at the very least helped shine a bolder spotlight on groups who would otherwise never have had their “day in the sun”, having set their guitars down for the last time in the early 2000s. Traverse YouTube for a mere twenty minutes, and you’ll unearth a whole roster of obscure groups that you may never have heard without this unexpected surge in popularity.

For myself, when the subject of emo music comes up, I foremostly think of the greats; Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, Cap’n Jazz, Texas Is The Reason, Rites of Spring, you know the drill, but lurking just underneath those big names are a number of groups that are just as special in their own rite, and truly exemplify the low-fidelity sound and melancholy atmosphere of emo music at the turn of the century. One such group that always occupies that position for me is The Pine.

The Pine were a four-piece band from Bakersfield, California, consisting of brothers Roger and Kurt King, Bill McCreary and Steven Koontz. The group played a fast-paced yet morose and melodic style of emo music that was not too dissimilar from the likes of influential Southern California outfit Evergreen, and even the more raucous, punk rock sound of Hüsker Dü. The group was active from 1999 to 2005, and in that time released four full-length albums, as well as numerous splits and compilations, collaborating with now beloved screamo outfits such as La Quiete from Italy and The Saddest Landscape from Massachusetts.

As with a lot of groups of the era, the band placed an enormous amount of emphasis on DIY, touring and playing shows in small venues across the United States, remaining independent throughout their time as a band, and most notably, creating their own artwork for each release. It’s always encouraging when album artwork pairs well with the sound of the record in question, and nowhere is this truer than on the covers and sleeve inserts drawn up by Roger King. The low-fidelity analogue warmth of the band’s sound and the gloom that oozes from the chord progressions and sombre basslines marry wonderfully with the images; scratchy but wonderfully crafted black ink sketches of lonely or worn-down figures; a mother holding a child, a young man with tussled hair, and a man carrying a bundle of sticks on his back, wearing a sullen expression.

A word that might serve as a suitable, all-encompassing description other than “sad” or “melancholy”-which do no justice at all for the band’s sonic signature- might be “derelict”. This is not to say that the music of The Pine does not evoke an emotional response, rather I’m implying that theirs is the sound of fading nostalgia, and the quietly lingering ghosts of things that once were. Listening to their music, you can imagine yourself wandering around a town that you vaguely recall spending time in decades prior, knowing that at one point in time, you had friends and memories there that have long since distorted as the years have worn on. Maybe you knew the people living in the house on the outskirts of town, but they left long ago and now the house is nearly unrecognisable. Maybe you visit the local school that you attended as a kid, thinking that you can see a childhood friend in a class picture hung on the wall, but you’re not sure. The town is populated yet it feels vacant, and the version of it that you knew well feels far away.

A great deal of the band’s music exemplifies this haunting, lonesome emotion, but none more than their appropriately named sophomore album Days Slipping By. A noteworthy element of this album- and the band’s music in general- is the use of the bass guitar as more than just a low frequency foundation, with bassist McCreary playing infectious high register lines that often sit on the frontlines with the piercing guitars, receding back into root notes when necessary. The guitars on the album are often distorted and frantic, but the King brothers don’t always stick to punk rock power chords, opting instead for richer, more tonally interesting chords to create the wistful atmospheres that truly define their sound. Roger King’s vocals have been regarded by some as being difficult to get used to, although traditionally “bad” singing has long been a staple of yesteryear’s emo music, meaning The Pine’s approach to vocals is nothing heinous or out of whack. King’s voice is a stressed, yearning cry that shares some similarities with the iconic strained style of Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan.

Two definite standouts from the album are title track “Days Slipping By” and “Sunchild”, which for me (and hopefully for you if this article sends you in the intended direction) are songs that strongly conjure up those aforementioned nostalgic images. “Days Slipping By” is a brooding, doomy song introduced by a slightly dissonant chord sequence littered with intermittent guitar feedback, stitched together by pounding drums and a fluid bassline. King sings of loneliness and being acutely aware of the passing of time; “And I am living my life, the best I can, let’s pretend, days be slipping on by”.

“Sunchild” is a song that communicates yearning through a mix of dynamics; tentatively strummed roomy guitars contrast searing post-hardcore progressions as King croons about the inevitability of change; “The children are playing, and the sunshine is raining…Feelings fade, seasons change, things will change.” After the soft, lonely guitar introduction, a driving drumbeat picks up the intensity as a bittersweet bassline dances alongside a heart-wrenching guitar arpeggio, working in tandem to create a nostalgic atmosphere that feels like an intense longing for something unplaceable.

As with many emo groups of the 1990s and early 2000s, something that made The Pine’s legacy so special is that they truly were just four guys writing and playing music because they enjoyed doing so; something that is observable in their prolificacy during their time as a band, and even in the sound of their music. For anyone who has never quite delved into their work, my own personal bias might suggest that you start out with Days Slipping By, however their debut self-titled album, Lead Blocks for Feet, Don’t Need Regret or any of their smaller releases are just as good a starting point as any.

Following The Pine’s disbandment in 2005, the band underwent a kind of metamorphosis, shedding the punk influenced electric guitars and emerging five years later as Reaching Away, which featured Bill McCreary and the King brothers. The band expectedly carried some of The Pine’s quirks, such as wistful atmospheres brought about by rich open chords and vocals akin to a ghostly moan, although this time Roger and Kurt King opted to bring acoustic guitars to the forefront of the group’s sound.

Roger went on to record some solo music, including the cozy lo-fi album Still Waiting, which was released in 2011, and a split release with Australian emo band No Action in 2013.

After some years of inactivity music-wise (and I’m ashamed to say this only just entered my radar) Kurt and Roger started a new band in 2019 called Desert Legs, this time with Kurt on vocals and Roger on drums. Even all these years later, this new outfit still carries the same passion and lo-fi charm of the duo’s previous musical ventures. The band released a self-titled full-length LP in 2019, and for any fans of The Pine, it’s absolutely worth checking out.

If this article convinced you to give The Pine a shot, then I’m glad. Whether you’re a stranger to the underground emo acts of the 1990s and are looking to make your first foray into the dingy production and unfettered emotion put forward by such groups, or are a seasoned listener who missed this delightful quartet the first time, The Pine are a criminally unsung cornerstone of the genre.

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Flip The Tape is a music blog for massive nerds, run by Julian J. Alexander.

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Flip The Tape

Flip The Tape

Flip The Tape is a music blog for massive nerds, run by Julian J. Alexander.

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