Silversun Pickups - Swoon
Record Label: Dangerbird Records
Release Date: April 14, 2009
Silversun Pickups are the Southern California four-piece whose auspicious 2005 EP, Pikul, foreshadowed the excellence that would follow on their full-length debut, 2006's Carnavas, which rose to surprising success, given its release on the small indie label Dangerbird, with the singles "Lazy Eye" and "Well Thought Out Twinkles" setting the charts ablaze. After nearly three years, they're making their highly anticipated return.
How Is It?
Swoon? That's what fans of Carnavas are likely to do upon listening to its long-awaited follow-up. That's not to say that Silversun Pickups have remade their last album. In fact, they've done a tremendous job of writing a record that precludes accusations to that effect, all the while retaining all that was charming about Carnavas. Similarly to how that album represented a more muscular approach to the dynamic, yet intimate, style the band explored on Pikul, Swoon kicks everything up another notch or two, and the result is a record that is fuller, heavier, and in many ways, even better than its predecessor.
Back for another go-round are frontman Brian Aubert's haunting dream-pop vocal and hazy guitar work that have become the band's trademark. For evidence, look no further than the opener, "There's No Secrets This Year," a veritable wall of distortion that collapses into a wash of swirling keys as Aubert delivers the line, "Better make sure you're looking closely before you fall into your swoon." Clearly not content to rest on their laurels, Silversun Pickups sound energized and ready to rock from the very start. They also sound newly inspired, as "The Royal We" features string accents, which add an orchestral flair to what is perhaps the heaviest guitar-rock song they've recorded.
The amps are turned back down a bit for the first few minutes of "Growing Old Is Getting Old," which features a Breeders-esque bass line and shimmering guitars, not unlike their work on Pikul, until it also erupts with a furious blast of scratchy fuzz. It's further demonstration of Silversun Pickups' skill at writing well-developed compositions, something they've always done well. The ten tracks on Swoon average over five minutes each, but despite their length, manage to remain interesting and avoid the pitfall of becoming self-indulgent. Even the single, "Panic Switch," which is currently lighting up the airwaves, is compelling throughout its near six-minute run-time.
If there's a forseeable complaint with this album, it would be that, at certain points, like the aforementioned single, undisguised hooks seem to be inserted, ostensibly to enhance its rock radio appeal. While the success of Carnavas with mainstream audiences was largely accidental, there are moments on Swoon that sound like a play to capitalize on the name recognition that Silversun Pickups now enjoy. However, it would be unfair to discount these songs on those grounds, as musically and lyrically, they are light-years more inspired than the average radio single.
The hypnotic "Draining" provides a brief respite from the intensity of the album's first half, with the band at the most soothing you'll find them on Swoon, with the string section making its presence known here as well. The other unexpected number on the set is "Substitution," on which the band experiment with a more organic sound. Though it does contain its fair share of guitar fuzz, there's more use of clean guitar tones and even a glimpse of what Aubert's singing voice sounds like when he's not trying to sounds all breathy (he actually sounds a bit like... Andy Hull? No kidding!).
The album draws to a close solidly, with the one-two punch of "Catch and Release," which contains a deep guitar groove, reminiscent of the '90s post-grunge from which the band have frequently drawn influence, and "Surrounded," a mid-tempo tune that would have been right at home on Carnavas. It's an apt way to end the record, which finds Silversun Pickups stretching and adding to their sound, without straying too far from the formula that's earned them the success they've achieved so far. From front to back, the album is anchored by the hazy, dramatic soundscapes we've come to love, and the addition of more prominent strings and heavier guitar parts has added depth to their already mature sound. Truly an album for everyone, there isn't likely to be another record this year that will appeal to the casual rock fan and the indie snob quite as readily as Swoon.