Indie guitar rock has lain fallow of late, bearing less fruit of interest than 10, 20, even five years ago. Pinback's "Summer in Abaddon" is a welcome harvest for those who mourn Elliott Smith, for those who think Modest Mouse has talent, for those who miss the Police, whether they know it or not.
Pinback, of San Diego, is the multi-instrumental duo of Armistead Burwell "Zach" Smith IV and Rob Crow, two men unafraid to harmonize. The band formed as a side project in the late 1990s, when Crow was noodling around with Thingy and Heavy Vegetable. Smith played in Three Mile Pilot, which like many promising '90s indie bands had its ill-fated major-label day in the sun; his co-Pilots went on to form the Black Heart Procession, a band every bit as cheery as its name.
These periods of growth matured both men's musical impulses, and after five years together full time Crow and Smith have honed a distinctive sound that is simultaneously moody and warm. Perhaps that's what happens when you woodshed in a perpetually sunny place.
Pinback's songs are melodic, catchy and concise but don't follow a predictable structure. Smith and Crow renounce the three-chord rule and prefer their pop a little dark: Again, the Police come to mind. Theirs are minds that summer in a biblical abyss of the dead (that's Abaddon), that write a slow, overcast song and call it "Bloods on Fire."
"Summer in Abaddon" has all the charms of "Blue Screen Life" -- Pinback's last full-length effort, hailed from music 'zines to NPR's "All Things Considered" -- but improves on the execution. Each song is a testament to craftsmanship, where instrumental textures and vocal counterpoints build upon themselves. These songs don't play, they unfurl.
At the same time, Pinback's most recent songwriting is multifaceted but discerning, with almost nothing extraneous. This is a rarer feat than it sounds and holds true for every song on the album, from the shambling "This Red Book" to the exponential "Syracuse." To accomplish this texture on tour, the duo adds three members.
"Non Photo-Blue," named for a shade that can't be photocopied, layers vocals, guitar, chugging bass, at least one keyboard part and a brief saxophone skronk (perhaps synthetic). The album closer, "AFK," skips the piano but wields most everything else in the arsenal: looping guitar, pounding drums and vocal parts both shouted and intimate. Repeated playings reveal more textures; the more you listen, the more you hear.
But sometimes, too much dissection diminishes enjoyment. Better to let the unassuming plaintive beauty of "Sender" wash over you. Better to bounce along with the fiercely catchy "Fortress"; in a just world, it would permeate radio, and it has been a while since indie rock yearned to be shared.
Pinback plays at the Black Cat on Oct. 25.