In the three years since Pinback’s third album, the widely praised Summer in Abaddon, inexhaustible frontman Rob Crow has released his fourth solo album; participated in, recorded, and toured with his legion of side projects; and welcomed the birth of his first son. These events have contributed heavily to Autumn of the Seraphs, a fully realized and reflective album, polished with the unassuming wisdom that one naturally accrues over the years.
Seraphs is the fourth installment in a canon of solid, ever-upward releases from Pinback, leaving behind some of the dramatic, underdeveloped elements of the bass-heavy self-titled debut (1998) and the dated math-pop of Blue Screen Life (2001), oriented here toward more pleasing guitar rhythms and cadence-friendly harmonies. It is a snapshot of Pinback at its most practiced and self-aware: fluid, calculated, penetrating, yet always at the fringe of its former incarnation.
Like Abaddon, Seraphs is marked by home-studio recording and the near-exclusive production efforts of Crow and Zach Smith. The band now includes drummers Chris Prescott (No Knife) and Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket from the Crypt) and the one-track mixing technique of Mark Trombino (Drive Like Jehu), but the bulk of writing, recording, and mixing was spearheaded by the two core members. The intimate combination of talent seems to be the ticket for Crow and Smith; although each new release sometimes signals the departure of previous Pinback players (Tom Zinser and Kenseth Thibideau, notably) this perhaps allows Crow and Smith to forge forward with their creative ideas unimpeded.
Restrained tracks like “Walters” and the bubbly “Good to Sea” gravitate toward more traditional pop structures yet retain the addictive and effortless aural sensibility that goes hand-in-hand with the Pinback sound. Closer “Off by 50” recalls classic-rock standards with heavy guitar and piano intonations and anthemic refrains.
Like the conceptual Summer in Abaddon, Autumn of the Seraphs exists in a world of its own, exploring the emotional, existential themes that tow the line between heaven and hell. Perhaps this is what makes Pinback so likeable. The musicians strike the right balance between an ambitious, ever-evolving pop sound and a down-to-earth, DIY ethic. Here, trademark bass lines remain dreamy, the lyrics dependably cryptic. Yet Seraphs reveals the color of a more refined season: the fine-tuning of age, the subtleties of insight, and three years well spent in the pursuit of all that life has to offer.