Review Summary: Because maybe if we're loud we'll stay alive.
It is so easy to live and not feel alive. To act without meaning, or talk without speaking. To work without creating. In a way we spend our entire lives fighting to be alive, to reach a state of being that we can feel alive in, happy in. Imagine a moment suspended in time, a moment without gravity or death, without fear or desire. Try to remember the naïve feeling of being truly alive and suspended in the universe, soaked in air and light. Imagine in that moment the life of the world around you as a part of you. Imagine lifting across the oceans with the wind. To reach this perfect moment is pure catharsis, and it is something I fight for every day I breathe. And there is no catharsis, no lifeblood, no oxygen purer to me than music. And there is no music that lifts me above fear and sadness like Silversun Pickups.
I first heard Carnavas
after a lengthy obsession with Thrice and Kayo Dot, so the shimmering pop appeal of the album was a breath of fresh air. The simple songwriting didn’t seem arbitrary or thoughtless, as is often the case with pop-infused music. Instead, it felt like a perfect measure of suspense and release, a series of moments to anticipate and be absorbed in. One musical section seamlessly leading up to another, winding back and forth expressively, meaningfully. Brian Aubert’s voice, at that point already friendly and intimate to me from the much loved Swoon
, broke through the barrier of unfamiliarity and spoke directly to me, his guitar effectively drowning my soundscape in an ocean of echoing chords and melodies, pure emotion and expression.
Which isn’t to say that Carnavas
is a particularly noisy album, quite the opposite. Listening to it feels almost like standing in an auditorium, it is so filled with ambient space. It sounds
good. This spaciousness is partly due to the rich production of the album, which presents a brilliant mix of the five basic instruments of the album (guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and the occasional lush synthesizer) that is clear and dynamic, but mostly comes from an ongoing duel within the album between furious walls of distorted fuzz, and echoing, spacious ballads. Silversun Pickups’ ability to cleanly balance these two opposed forces is a big part of what drives the tension and energy of the album, but there is something much more honest and simple that makes Carnavas
such an astoundingly resonant piece of music to me: the melodies.
It is almost taken for granted that melodies are inherent to music. It is easy to forget that absolutely every song requires a melody of some sort, whether that is as subtle as the timbre of a snare drum, as rich as a piano ballad, or somewhere in between, like a series of chords on an acoustic guitar. But one thing I feel every person can understand and grasp in a truly visceral way is the power of these melodies. That power is part of the essence of why we listen to music. Melodies become the voices and emotions of music, they are a big part of how music makes us feel. And, most importantly, they are entirely subjective. There is absolutely no way to say realistically one melody is better than another. That said, Carnavas
contains, within its 11 songs, some of the most beautiful, poignant melodies I’ve ever heard in contemporary music. Every song is infectious and cathartic, every chord and note played powerfully and with intent, every vocal melody meaningful and passionate.
The strength of these melodies is further complimented by their place among the other melodies of their songs, as well as how they are juxtaposed against other melodies within musical parts. Brian Aubert’s ability to layer two effective melodies – vocals and guitar - over eachother to a powerful final result is remarkable, and creates epic soundscapes of interweaving melodies and textures when the rest of the band comes in. The rest of the band, by the way, is just as good. Carnavas
’ drums are a creative balance of anthemic 1-2 counts and angular syncopation, at times pulling back the rhythmic density of songs to create something almost absurdly infectious and head-bobbing, at other times twisting themselves around the music to create a frantic, driving polyrhythm between instruments. The bass occasionally takes the lead in songs like ‘Rusted Wheel’ and ‘Waste it On’, a dynamic that adds greatly to the music, but it primarily exercises simplicity. Driven by a simple melody or chord progression, the bass always plays off the guitar and drums rather than totally following them. In effect, the drum and bass of Carnavas
drive the album forward while the vocals and guitar lift it off the ground.
isn’t terribly innovative. Admittedly, this is music that we’ve sort of heard before. The constant references to Smashing Pumpkins and other similar rock acts aren’t entirely unfounded. But Silversun Pickups have an unmistakable voice, and there is something entirely special about this band’s ability to create expressive, challenging, and beautiful melodies and songs, soaked in emotion and honesty, that shines powerfully on Carnavas
. And I, for one, am truly moved.