The California indie-pop collective Pinback arrived just as post-rock was winding down and emo was cranking up, and the band has always stood awkwardly astride those two worlds, favoring the former's tight patterns and aimless rumble as much as the latter's pop-punk expressionism. Pinback's latest album, Summer In Abaddon, makes strides toward streamlining the band's sound, working its trademark circular guitar signatures and spacey keyboards into a hookier form. The results sound like a less earthy, artier Modest Mouse, or like the post-doctoral version of Death Cab For Cutie.
The cleaner, more direct approach both helps and hurts. Without at least some sonic kink, Pinback drifts toward the pleasant but undistinguished; its core sound is too rarefied to snag the common rock fan. Pinback plays more to connoisseurs that appreciate The Golden Palominos, Pere Ubu, and The Feelies. (People who know who Anton Fier is, basically.) At the same time, though, the shored-up choruses of songs like "Sender" and "Soaked" ground a band that tends to be somewhat elusive.
Summer In Abaddon itself has a too-vague aspect until its concluding tracks. "AFK" features bandleaders Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV swapping coos and shouts over a pounding beat and a flexible lattice of guitars, while the ominous drone and chime of "Scent" relies on the chant "wait to get started / wait to get started / rest a while," which makes Pinback's theories of musical stasis sound like a creed.