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How Pinback's side projects fuel the mothership

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Five years feels like an awfully long time in the music industry.

In the age of Internet marketing, when music lovers devour new songs and records daily, the amount of tunes stuffed into the same amount of time feels practically overwhelming, a torrent so swift it cannot be tracked. While stadium headliners like U2 or Nine Inch Nails might get away with long breaks between albums, mid-level performers subsisting on frequent tours and a hype cycle that churns constantly have to release new music to keep their name in front of the crowd.

Don't tell that to Pinback: Back in 2007, the duo of Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV released Autumn of the Seraphs, a career-defining effort that saw them shift from drum machines to live percussion without diminishing the urgency of their emotive pop. Opener "From Nothing to Nowhere" is taut and terrific, charging ahead with a restless new wave bass and intricate vocal patterns. Seraphs garnered glowing reviews; strangely, Pinback had never been hotter.

Smith and Crow have been active since then. They each released solo albums. They continued to tour, hitting common haunts with drummer Chris Prescott. But Information Retrieved, the outfit's rock-solid Seraphs follow-up, didn't arrive until last October.

"We did a lot of things in between. I had a son. Rob had two kids. He had a second son and a daughter. I wrote a couple albums in between. He did [as well]," Smith says. "People think it was way long, but we had three kids between us. He moved into a new house. We wrote like four records between us."

These domestic developments don't hinder Information Retrieved. "Proceed to Memory" might be the sharpest single in Pinback's catalog. Its edge is informed equally by post-punk and electro-pop. A demanding digital beat collides with elastic drums, providing a sturdy backbone for synths and riffs that lift the song's distortion high. "Drawstring" is creepy and elegant, with subtle guitars and keys. "True North" builds a hypnotic pulse from prickling guitar and staccato strings, adding unexpected depth behind its riff.

Many of these sounds were incubated on the duo's recent solo efforts. With 2009's Underslept, Smith's second outing as Systems Officer, he oscillates between lush synth textures and driving rock crescendos, staking out the space that Pinback fills on Information. "Shape Shifter," for instance, contrasts its burly techno stomp with delicate guitar and synth, a template revisited for Information. Crow compliments these talents with rougher and often more aggressive sounds. He's the instigator of Goblin Cock, a murky and funny metal band, but his 2011 solo album, He Thinks He's People, more accurately embodies his role on Information. His music is a clash of hot and cold elements, with a tension that goes forever unresolved.

On Information Retrieved, they carve out new territory with fresh sounds borrowed from those side projects, proving that these consistent craftsmen still have room for stylistic expansion.

"Stuff kind of conjures the same feelings in my head that it did 10 years ago, but you're doing it in a different light," Smith says. "[With] the sound that we create, something that we wrote today is something we could have written 15 years ago, but we're always doing different things, experimenting and hoping that it's not bland."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Break to make."

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