The name Pinback suggests restraint. It sounds a little distant, emotionally—coolly analytical. Let me just say it: It makes me think of a dissection pan from freshman biology, black wax and a pinioned frog with its various layers, well, pinned back. It hardly bespeaks the warmth of sound and songwriting present on Pinback’s albums.
Then again, most of us can probably think of things in our lives we would have named differently if only we’d have known how they would turn out. Pinback started in San Diego in 1998, a part-time project for its two core members, Armistead Burwell Smith IV of sad-core stalwarts 3-Mile Pilot and Bob Crow of Thingy and Heavy Vegetable. With 3-Mile Pilot on indefinite hiatus and Crow looking for other projects, a simple plan to get together and record a few songs on Smith’s home computer got more and more ambitious as other musicians (3-Mile Pilot drummer Tom Zinsor) were roped in. Soon, the recording confederation now calling itself Pinback had recorded an album’s worth of songs originally slated for release by hometown label Vinyl Communications.
But what happened next, no one saw coming. Pinback’s performance in a Tim/Kerr Records showcase at the North by Northwest music festival prompted a bidding war and kept the album tied up in contractual disputes for nearly a year. New Jersey label Ace Fu emerged victorious from the bidding frenzy and released Pinback’s eponymous full-length debut in October 1999.
Since then, the band has succored indie-rock appetites with roughly one release per year, ranging from full-blown studio efforts (Blue Screen Life and Offcell) to lesser-fi home recordings (Some Voices) to live albums (Live in Donny’s Garage). The Pinback sound varies from wonky prog to straightforward pop to mellow indie gold akin to Built to Spill with some of that band’s rougher edges sanded down. If there’s a constant, it’s Pinback’s preference for complicated arrangements and subtle production, with the vocals smoothed into a thin ribbon on the Doug Martsch end of the vocal spectrum.
They’re not, like, Shins- or Modest Mouse-big yet, but they’re well on their way. Advance ticket sales for the band’s Missoula show have been respectable—which, in a town not known for buying tickets in advance for club shows, should tell you something.
Pinback plays The Other Side on Friday, Nov. 19, at 10 PM.