Those Pinbacks are some sneaky fellers. For the past five years or so, the San Diego duo of Zack Smith and Rob Crow have been leading us to believe that they’re quiet, indie gloomsters, content to exercise their talents through muted guitar strums and minor key piano. A distortion pedal is rarely welcome. A solo would be completely out of the question. And a handclap or a “yeah?” Don’t even think about it. But somehow, Pinback slyly ushered in catchiness. They injected hooks between the picked melodies and sing along choruses between their saturnine verses.
So goes the pattern on Summer in Abaddon, the SoCal duo’s third album. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Pinback thus far, but still unique in its own right. Pinback are consistent but inventive, tweaking their sound enough to keep things interesting without abandoning the principles that govern Pinback’s individuality. And, of course, it has its share of hooks, albeit subtle ones. This should come as no surprise to local fans, however, as Blue Screen Life yielded a radio hit two years ago with “Penelope.”
From the first riff of “Non Photo-Blue,” it’s quite apparent that you’re listening to a Pinback album. All the elements are there: Crow’s hushed vocals, Smith’s overlapping chorus delivery, cleanly plucked guitar and a steady, yet lazy beat. And this is why we love Pinback. When we grow weary of walking a Trail of Dead or feeling Faint, we have Crow and Smith’s gentle melodies to replace the cacophony. But what sets Summer apart from past releases is what wasn’t there. The duo layers ambient synths in “Sender,” strums chords on an acoustic guitar in “Syracuse” and make everything just a little bit louder and heavier on the rockin’ “AFK.”
The monster hit, however, is “Fortress,” which is tucked neatly away at the end of the album’s first side. While Crow and Smith don’t necessarily play the song any differently than they would any other, their approach is more playful and fun. In other words, it’s the song that was written to be a single, as drums are replaced with a hand-clapping drum machine and the chorus is even a bit reminiscent of Duran Duran. Do I hear some “Save a Prayer” in there?
Pinback are never going to attempt thrash punk, arena rock or even a little noise experimentation. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any room for them to breathe and try their hand at new techniques and styles. It’s the subtle differences that make each Pinback album unique. But even if I’m wrong about how far Pinback will stretch their limits, there is one type of album that they’ll absolutely never make — a bad one.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.