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Running Mates

Pinback and Aspects of Physics Share Histories and a Tour—but Not a Sound

Back to Back: (from left) Armistead "Zach" Burwell Smith IV and Rob Crow harmonize in Pinback.

By Ryan Boddy | Posted 10/20/2004

Pinback and Aspects of Physics play the Ottobar Oct. 22 with Mates of State.

“We really don’t like any other musicians,” Rob Crow says, half-jokingly, from his San Diego home a few hours before boarding a plane to New York with the rest of Pinback for a two-month tour, half of which includes fellow San Diegans Aspects of Physics. “It’s kind of hard to be thrown on the road for a month with people you don’t know. With Aspects, we’re all really good friends. It’s just a good time.”

Aspects of Physics and Pinback share more than an area code. Crow, current Pinback drummer Cameron Jones, and Aspects of Physics members Jason Soares and Jfre “Robot” Coad were all members of the woefully underappreciated and exquisitely experimental 1990s outfit Physics, a band that mixed Krautrock layered guitars with various electronics. When that band dissolved in early 2000, Crow redistributed his attentions across his considerably varied projects, including Thingy, Optiganally Yours, and Fantasy Mission Force. At the time, though, Pinback, Crow’s melodic but slightly off-center indie-pop project with Three Mile Pilot alumnus Armistead (Zach) Burwell Smith IV, was blowing up. Over the next four years Pinback toured the world on the strength of two highly lauded records and a couple of EPs, all of which feature vocal harmonies that could make Brian Wilson blush.

During that time, Soares pressed on with his own brand of Physics, taking the band to even more experimentally experiential extremes. He enlisted the aid of former members and set about creating a full-fledged multimedia experience. He fleshed out compleý visual accompaniments (projected computer-manipulated graphics) with then New York-based artist Fredrick Mathias Lorenz. He developed software that allows him to perform shows a world away from his instruments (www.midiweb.org). He co-created an energy-efficient verbal language based on English with Lorenz (www.energylanguage.org). All of this supports a concept planned to span three full-length Aspects of Physics albums, a musical exploration of communication breakdown in this world dominated by information.

Both bands put out full-length records earlier this month. Pinback’s Summer in Abaddon is its first for indie giant Touch and Go Records, and Aspects of Physics dropped its second, Marginalized Information Forms 1: Ping, for San Diego’s Imputor? Records, the first of the trilogy. Considering the bands’ closeness, it makes perfect sense to tour together—except that they sound absolutely nothing alike.

“Obviously the majority of people are there for Pinback,” Soares says from his San Diego home. “I think a lot of these kids have never seen the kind of multimedia experience we’re putting out there. It’s great to expose people to new stuff, but at the same time it’s hard to balance the entertainment and the conceptual aspects of seeing live music.”

Aspects of Physics shows feature Soares and Coad manipulating homemade electronics, synthesizers, and guitars accompanied by new member Brent Asbury, a former Pinback drummer, and visual co-conspirator Lorenz, who was responsible for Three Mile Pilot’s live visuals. The music runs toward the cerebral, with relatively subdued guitars and glitchy electronics floating in front of Lorenz’s on-the-fly graphic presentation.

“One of the things I got tired of with Physics was that it was just the music,” Soares says. “Being in a band was cool, but it lacked something. Music isn’t always just entertainment. With Aspects it’s more of a package deal. “

Pinback’s live show revolves around the musicianship of its members and carefully crafted melody rather than Aspects’ conceptual high art. Crow and Smith trade instruments between songs as deftly as they share vocal duties. Each song seems somehow familiar without seeming to draw from any specific influences, as if the duo was able to steal identifiable song bits and then somehow wipe your memory of the theft.

“We always get the thing where people don’t know how to describe us,” Crow says. “I suppose it’s good not to be pigeonholed. Pinback songs are intentionally apolitical. It’s more about the vocal sound than it is the words themselves.”

As he speaks on the phone, he stops briefly to record a vocal take for yet another project. He is quiet to the point of sounding slight but at the same time very direct, reserved but a bit out there. “The song is written in the Pakuni language,” Crow explains after harmonizing in what sounds like gibberish. “You know, from that show, Land of the Lost.”

The vocals sound odd but hauntingly soothing, just like his Pinback songs. Somehow, Crow manages to function as an almost traditional songwriter in spite of his more eclectic work. He pulls off weird but in a way that remains completely natural. The addition of Smith’s voice would conceivably be as seamless in this Pakuni melody as it would be on a record, even if this isn’t a Pinback project.

“We write the songs separately,” Crow says. “They come together on their own, really. We just hammer it out and work on it every day while we can.”

It’s a casual approach that permeates Crow’s working m.o. Pinback spent the past few weeks practicing for the tour, with Jones flying in from Portland, Ore., to play drums. So since Pinback is hitting the road, why not bring along some friends, despite obvious stylistic differences? It makes a month of rolling down the East Coast switching between multimedia commentary and beautifully off-kilter vocal harmony—and any head scratching that goes on between sets—much more enjoyable.

“We’re touring with Aspects because we like them,” Crow says. “And we don’t have to deal with them acting like indie-rock stars.”

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