Review Summary: An accessible marriage of grunge and indie rock.
When reviewing a debut album, one must tread the path lightly. If you over-praise a band’s effort, that very same band that you heartily commended could present you with over-indulgent or profoundly meek crap next time they put forward an album. The flip side, and usually the more worn-out path where debut albums are concerned, is inherently more dangerous. Take for example, the cheek of Rolling Stone magazine, who felt it appropriate to slander and defecate all over Jimmy Page and his “Led Zeppelin”. The same feisty conglomerate also added Nirvana and Queen to the list after word, as well as other groups I am admittedly too lazy to research. The grandiloquent irony in this is, of course, that all three of the aforementioned bands more or less rose to the status of Gods, generation spokesmen, and irreverent innovators, respectively, and is a prime reason why when someone wants to brand a new group with any such adjectives as “pretentious”, “obnoxious”, or “Barbara Streisand”, they should perhaps step carefully. Of course, there are bands that put forth something that one knows how to brand upon first listen; the kind of group that you know your opinion on right after finishing the album. Well for me, dear reader, that band is Los Angeles own Silversun Pickups.
Going back to the Queen/Nirvana/Zeppelin referencing, each one of those groups had something naturally special about them. Freddie Mercury was how Jesus would have acted if he was bi-sexual. Kurt Cobain was introspective and killed hair metal. Robert Plant wore his shirt unbuttoned. So, what makes these Silversun Pickups unusual? First and foremost, the leading man and resident exclusive of the group guitarist/singer Brian Aubert. The very first thing one takes note of on first hearing is Aubert’s unique voice, which ranges from mellow and soothing to fierce and emotional. Aside for his very unique vocal style, he has a knack for subtle guitar playing; a style that can make a simple powerchord section vibrate with wall-shaking power. However, he is at least a fairly skilled player in his own right, coloring the album with strings of appregiated triads and other such nonsense, and even throws in a solo or two. Reverting back to the subject of vocals, bassist/vocalist Nikki Monninger has a rather pleasing knack of providing harmony vocals, which tends to make whatever song you’re listening to far better than it would’ve been. Occasionally, she’ll score her own individual vocal sections, as found in the fuzzy and grooving Little Lovers So Polite
, a song which, for all it’s merit, would be a shadow of it’s former self without her.
Speaking of fuzz
, you could drown in it when listening to this record. Whether it helps define Aubert’s tastefully subtle guitar playing or is manipulated by keyboard/crazy noise master Joe Lester, the textured and often melancholic atmosphere becomes even more endless than it was before, which actually says a lot as Lester is constantly complimenting Brian’s bittersweet melodies and lyrics with either eerie or downright soothing backdrops. As a matter of fact, that pretty much defines this album. Throw in a few choice words like ‘melancholic’ and ‘atmospheric’ and you’ve got the very essence of Carnavas
. Going from a song like Lazy Eye
, which exudes mountains of hopeful disappointment lyrically with music to match to a tune such as Rusted Wheel
with its’ emboldened frustration (again with creepily fitting instrumentals) is not an easy feat for a veteran groups third album, let alone a band’s debut (full-length, that is).
Ah, the groove. Such an interesting musical feature. When done properly, you’d be hard-pressed to find something that expels such emotion, be it joy, sorrow, angst, anger, whatever. Should you fail to create one properly, you’ll probably sound something like… Limp Bizkit. As shown on the EP Pikul
, and more specifically on the track Kissing Families
, the Pickups are already masters of the groove, and display it virtually all throughout the album. Rusted Wheel
, Well Thought Out Twinkles
(the most rocking song on the album), and the album closing Common Reactor
are perhaps the shining examples of the groups’ mastery of the art. Even more delightful, instead of recycling the same feel to each one, every individual groove not only fits and enhances the song, but has a distinctly different feel than the others and more over a personality of its own.
Perhaps the most relieving thing about the group is its’ ego. I guarantee you now; you will never stumble across a two and a half minute guitar solo, an irritating drum solo, or an insufferable keyboard binge. Everything done on the album by each individual band member is tasteful and relevant, usually to the point where the song just wouldn’t be the same without it. The shining example of this is the rhythm section, made up of bassist Nikki Monninger and drummer Christopher Guanlao. Neither of them are technically astounding in any sense of the word. However, both do their respective roles, and actually very interestingly. While Monninger has a tendency to thump along on a root note for some time, she’ll also mix it up by shifting the melody whilst the others keep to the original course, or maintaining it as the rest of the group descends into chaos. Guanlao, for his part, tends to take simple beats and spin them differently; that is to say, put variations of the standard formula into a song, often to the point that it seems almost improvised. Out of the two, Guanlao is superior at his respective instrument, but Nikki more than makes up for this by providing stunningly poignant back-up vocals and for being a girl in a rock band. ROCK!
However, as with all debuts, the album is certainly not without fault. Remember that whole spiel about descending into chaos I mentioned? Yeah, well it could be argued they do it a little too often. It’s rather like a Pink Floyd sound-binge, though mercifully much shorter. Some, I included, can look past this. Others may not be able to. Also detracting from the album’s score is the track Waste It On
, which for all it’s crazy time-signatures and idealistic structures fails to provide any of the goodness the rest of the album conjures up, and overall comes off as a rather poor attempt at originality, especially compared to the rest of the record. While these are the main detractors, there a few other irks, most notably in the song Dream At Tempo 119
, which tends to get a bit uncomfortable as it switches from hazy, poignant tones to stomping, unadulterated rock and back again. And again. While not a major hindering, a song like it does appear a little indecisive in itself, which does kill some merit.
I suppose the main question you’re wondering is should you bother to listen to this band. A fine question it is, too. Well, chances are it’s not exactly everyone’s cup o’ tea, but I fail to see how you could not come out of a listen for the better. You could end up as I have, loving the album and eagerly awaiting their sophomore effort and for a stop in my/your town, or you could slowly and cautiously back away; wiser from the experience. Soaring melodies, oodles of texture, thumping grooves and introspective lyrics are well worth the time it takes to download, or the money it costs to purchase this, the Silversun Pickups full-length debut album. Besides, there’s a real live GIRL
in the band! Which totally makes up for any fault ever, right? Uh… Right?
From Me To You
Well Thought Out Twinkles
Little Lovers So Polite
Future Foe Scenarios