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Pinback formed in 1998 in San Diego, California; the key players, Crow and Smith, were both in other prominent local bands at the time. The ever-prolific Crow had played in Heavy Vegetable, Thingy, Optiganally Yours & Physics (several of which had gone on hiatus or were more open-ended projects than bands), and Smith was on break with 3 Mile Pilot (while bandmate Pall Jenkins concentrated on the Black Heart Procession). The duo recorded their first eponymous album, released in 1999 by Ace Fu, also known as This is a Pinback CD..

In 2000, Pinback released the Some Voices EP (Tree Records, reissued in 2002 by Absolutely Kosher). Critics claimed the band was entering uncharted territory and praised Pinback for their originality. With the subsequent release of Blue Screen Life in 2001 on Ace Fu Records, the indie-rock community was in agreement that Pinback had transcended genre placement: a rare honor for artists surrounded by a critical world obsessed with words like twee, emo, and anything ending in 'core'. The band followed the release of the album with a number of sold-out tours.

Offcell, with it's gentle melodies and catchy hooks, soon followed to great critical acclaim. In 2004 Summer in Abaddon was released, cementing any final lingering doubts of the band's place in the indie rock hall of fame.