Pinback won't set your pulse racing with chunky riffage or blow you away with symphonic excesses. Peers of Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, the band's catalog is lined with keenly crafted and mild-mannered yet arty indie rock.
There's a certain angularity to the group's sidewinding songs, which have sharp math rock edges blunted by languid melodic shimmer. The tracks churn a creamy froth without overflowing, drawing a listener into the lulling undulations of vocal harmonies and rich guitar texture over rubbery, insistent rhythms.
The San Diego-based outfit is spearheaded by onetime roommates Armistead Burwell "Zach" Smith and Rob Crow. The duo released four albums in three-year intervals between its 1998 formation and 2007's Autumn of the Seraphs. Pinback's growth has been steady, if a bit under most people's radar. And while the band is critically adored, its audience suggests it's still somewhat unsung.
"All I can tell you is it's weird from my perspective," said Crow, asked to explain the band's trajectory. "I only know it for what it is, and I know it's not normal, but it's all I know."
Though Pinback has continued to tour since Autumn of the Seraphs, its follow-up album has been a long time in the making. In October 2012, the band finally released its fifth LP, Information Retrieved.
"Zach wanted to make a couple albums in-between and he's the slow guy, which is not a bad thing, it just means that we knew right off the bat it was going to take forever," said Crow. "But it took way longer than either of us expected or wanted."
Both Crow and Smith maintain busy schedules. Smith used the time to record two albums--one under his solo guise, Systems Officer, and the other under Three Mile Pilot, his previous band that hasn't recorded an album since Pinback began. That's how Crow first got to know Smith.
"I was a fan of his from the second I saw his band," Crow said.
Later, the two roomed together.
"Three Mile Pilot would practice right beneath my room. I was, 'Hey, that's cool. At least I get to listen to Three Mile Pilot.' But we just never thought of working together."
Crow also has his own side projects and solo career. In 2011, he released his fourth solo LP, He Thinks He's People.
While for some bands, creating outside the group and playing with other musicians is an opportunity to bring something back to the group, that's not true for Crow. He suggested that this is one reason a Pinback album always sounds exactly like a Pinback album.
"I play with other people in different kinds of projects so I don't bring that into the Pinback discussion. Like, 'Come on Zach, let's do an album of noise,'" Crow laughed. "I like to keep it all in its proper place, though none of those things have a proper place, anyway."
It's just that way for Crow. His bands are broad and run the gamut from the knotty somnambulant Thingy to the odd, fractured pop swing of Optiganally Yours to the clamorous rock of Heavy Vegetable. He demonstrates a real knack for making something hypnotic yet also insidiously catchy.
"There's a lot of planned chaos," said Crow, describing his work process. "There's buried stuff that I'll forget about and find it later and be surprised enough to make me excited about it."
Despite his prolific output in other bands, there seems to be neither rhyme nor reason for why Pinback's albums take so long to make.
"We write and record at the same time. So it can be anything. It could be somebody just can't get their vocal right or can't think of a lyric or there's a part that takes something between A and B," he said. "It's always different. Sometimes we take to different corners and one guy's working on one part while the other guy's working on the other. There's no one way of everything going wrong. If there was a pattern, we would be able to avoid it."
Yet, overall, it has been a fruitful partnership between Smith and Crow. They do all of the songwriting together but have enlisted a variety of sidemen over the years, even swelling to a quintet before trimming back to a trio a couple years ago. Crow believes that change is responsible for the best live shows of the band's career.
It's actually one of Pinback's strange idiosyncrasies that its performances can be far more energetic and rocking than its albums. Crow said that difference has receded as of late. Touring so long without a new album, the band put more emphasis into its concerts.
"Our live shows have kind of hit a sweet spot between the two lately. It's more of an all-around entertainment thing," he said. "We've finally honed it down to having the best shows physically, and now we have a full visual accompaniment. I've created short films for everything. It took a while, but it's funny because the guys have never seen them, so they just have to take my word for it that it's cool."
Like everyone in the music business, Pinback has puzzled over how to release its music in the age of downloading. The band considered following many artists that are making EPs and shorter albums, but stopped short.
"We have this thing of being terrified that we would somehow let somebody down. Like it's only 40 minutes. Their album is only 40 minutes? What a rip off! They only played for an hour and a half? What a rip off," said Crow. "We're terrified of that."
One thing Crow's not afraid of is spending time in Boise. He said it's one of his favorite places to play.
"I'm excited. I like playing there. I dig the Neurolux. I've been there with Heavy Vegetable. We would never play there, but we would go there on our days off and have a great time," he said. "Boise has my favorite hotel room. They've got great vegan food. An awesome record store. What's not to love about Boise?"