Systems Officer is the solo project of Armistead Burwell Smith IV, better known to most as the bass player for Pinback and Three Mile Pilot. Underslept, his latest solo outing, the first full-length under this name, is a richly layered and nuanced math-pop affair. Any of its songs would feel right at home on a Pinback record. This is not to say that Systems Officer sounds exactly like his other band, but the instrumentation, production, and overall song structures are close enough to draw an immediate comparison.
Smith’s trebly, spindly bass playing anchors the songs and is often mixed to the front and center, as is frequently the case with Pinback. And his vocals, which usually punctuate Rob Crow’s verses as background or chorus helpers, capably take the reigns here. Sometimes, as on the loping “East,” the results are sort of melodramatic and near characterization as sappy, but the same emotions are rendered effective and emotive on a song like “Quan.”
Upbeat rock exists only as slightly less somber pop on the record, such as the marching “In This World,” which sports multi-layered vocals over a minor key dirge. For all of Smith’s dexterous bass playing and flair for inventive arrangement, the album feels locked into place, operating with one feeling, one mood throughout. Fortunately, Smith’s ability to write a good song and perform it interestingly fends off any monotony.