Release Date: Apr 14, 2009
Record label: Dangerbird
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Review Summary: An impressive record from an impressive up and coming band.In the past, when ever I've listened to Silversun Pickups, I've always gotten the impression that I've heard a vaguely similar sound before. This isn't so much a negative observation as it is a curious one. Critics have often likened the band to Smashing Pumpkins and, to a lesser degree, My Bloody Valentine; though such comparisons are certainly appropriate, Carnavas never came off as Siamese Dream-worship.
The L.A. foursome’s clearest musical parentage remains the Smashing Pumpkins, whose alt-angst themes and distorted guitar swirls they faithfully replicate here. Swoon initially lives up to its title, but it does begin to feel awfully inert. Album opener ”There’s No Secrets This Year,” a tangle of urgent drum bursts and furrowed-brow melodies, builds a nice buzz.
Film-makers! Need a soundtrack to your movie in which good-looking vampires make love in a state-of-the-art apartment, high above the city at night? Look no further: Silversun Pickups bring stylish gothic soundtrack solutions. The LA quartet's second album sounds very much like a product of its city: everything is heavily treated and polished to a sheen, including Brian Aubert's voice - which runs through enough effects to make the casual listener unsure of his gender. The mid-tempo semi-shoegaze of their debut has been slightly altered this time around, with the gothic-lite quotient upped (single Panic Switch is not alone in sounding like it might have been a hit for Evanescence), and the songs given melodramtic constructions.
Silversun Pickups generated more Smashing Pumpkins comparisons than any band this side of Zwan with their 2006 debut Carnavas, and whether or not it was justifiable, it was certainly understandable. But in the manner in which these things usually work out, such hyperbolic comparisons helped the Silver Lake band way more than it hurt them-- if they haven't quite reached the national profile of the Pumpkins, when I suggested that Los Angeles lacked a band that was locally connected, critically respected, and popularly accepted, I got a bunch of e-mails claiming my exclusion of Silversun Pickups had to be unintentional. Despite a handful of expected Second Album Upgrades (cue the strings!), Corgan influences continue to manifest themselves on Swoon-- Brian Aubert's treble-gutted riffs, the tendency to honk boyishly miserable lyrics through his nasal passage, and requirement that a bassist must be a looker that can harmonize.
Silversun Pickups hold Smashing Pumpkins as close to their heart as, say, Mudhoney hold the Stooges -- perhaps even more, as Silversun Pickups (whose very initials are the same as the Pumpkins') don't attempt synthesis or reimagination, they merely seek continuance, acting as though nothing happened between Siamese Dream in 1993 and Swoon in 2009. Try as they may, the bandmembers cannot deny the passage of time, or their geography, for Silversun Pickups are creatures of their time and place, just as their idols were. At their core, the Pumpkins were Midwestern misfits, something that was evident in their very appearance and sound, something that could be heard in Jimmy Chamberlin's thundering backbeat, the skyscraping guitars of Billy Corgan and James Iha, and, especially, Corgan's outcast wail, producing a sound that found beauty in ugliness and vice-versa.
L.A. is often accused of being more style than substance — a plastic empire built on glitz, ditz, and Botox. But, to be fair, L.A. shouldn’t be reduced to that stereotype. If anything, the City of Angels is a city of contradictions. Glamorous and gritty, sexy and smoggy, tantalizing and tawdry ….
Listening to this album makes me feel old. It seems such a long time ago I was coerced into listening to the newly released Machina album by my cooler-than-thou school mates. “Who is this baldy weirdo and why does he sing like someone’s shoved a 9-iron up his arse without so much as a ‘How’s your father’?” was my initial thought. That’s not, you’d imagine, the same story that Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert would recall.
Initially, I was feeling damned determined to write an entire review of the latest album from the Silversun Pickups without namedropping that other band with whom they share the SP acronym. My rationale for this, to be perfectly honest, was based on stubborn and illogical principles; surely a 21st century indie rock band from the eternally hip Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles could not be a carbon copy of the Smashing Pumpkins (oops), those 90’s alt-rock titans who painstakingly melded their love of metal and psychedelia into a vitriolic blend of rage and Midwestern isolationism? The answer is shockingly complex. But regardless which side you veer toward, there is one universal: attaching the name of the Smashing Pumpkins to the Silversun Pickups belittles the tremendous accomplishments of the former and brings premature applause to the latter.