Silversun Pickups
Widow's Weeds


3.2
good

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
June 9th, 2019 | 238 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Reboot the machine.

It seems that from the start, Silversun Pickups have had their eyes on making Widow’s Weeds a “return-to-roots” album. Those paying close attention took notice when the band parted ways with pop producer Jackknife Lee – who completed Neck of the Woods and Better Nature – in favor of Butch Vig, whose achievements include Nirvana’s Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins’Gish. The statement was obvious – they wanted to move away from the shimmering electronics of their last two records and towards something heavier. If that message didn’t hit home at first, then it likely did when the band dropped ‘It Doesn’t Matter Why’ as their lead single; a straightforward rock song aside from that string-laden bridge. And if that didn't do it, then it was all but confirmed when lead vocalist Brian Aubert sang "I need a fresh start now, reboot the machine!" on 'Don't Know Yet.' Bottom line: Silversun Pickups made damn sure you knew this was coming. Despite the continued commercial success of their past couple releases, it’s still their first two – Carnavas and Swoon – that are by and large considered fan favorites. Widow’s Weeds seeks to recapture an element of that sound, but its pursuit of past glory is met with mixed results.

Widow’s Weeds aims for a dryer, crunchier alt-rock aesthetic, yet one can’t help but notice that Vig overcorrects. Even when Silversun Pickups rocked out at their hardest, circa ‘Panic Switch’, there was always a smooth, shoegazy sheen that made their songs feel transcendent. Such an effect is difficult to find here. Whereas Better Nature was vibrant and colorful at every turn – from the incorporation of electronics to female vocals – Widow’s Weeds sounds comparatively dull. Instruments seem to be competing against each other in loudness wars, whereas Lee’s mixing on Neck of the Woods and Better Nature – while admittedly on the poppier side – managed to bring out the best elements of Silversun Pickups’ sound while locating the sweet spot between Brian Aubert’s shrill, wispy vocals and the band’s instrumental melodies. Perhaps this is just proof that no one will get it exactly right like Dave Cooley did on the group’s first two albums, but when comparing Lee’s sleek, shimmering pop-rock to Vig’s desiccated, straightedge “rock”, it’s clear that Silversun Pickups took a noticeable step back sonically.

However, Vig isn’t entirely to blame. The band needlessly restrains itself on multiple occasions, robbing listeners of some potentially superb songs. One doesn’t need to look any further than ‘Straw Man’, where we witness Silversun Pickups take an inherently great rock track and turn it into one that’s merely good. Aubert delivers one of his best vocal performances alongside a melody that’s perfectly scripted to become a massive hit, and the sporadic, rapid-fire electric guitar chords (combined with thumping drum beats) pack a punch that much of Widow’s Weeds sorely lacks. Unfortunately, that’s before the second half of the song drowns itself in strings that are weirdly low in the mix, especially to be the selling point or culmination of a heavy rock hitter. Then, to a serenade of fading acoustic plucks, ‘Straw Man’ fizzles out three minutes after posturing itself to absolutely erupt. Considering how easily they could have placed a complex guitar solo or breakdown at the end of that build-up, the whole thing feels more than just anti-climactic: it’s an outright letdown. It would be easy to blame this on a lack of invigoration from the studio, but sadly, the song just lacks creative direction – a burden that falls squarely on the bandmates themselves. ‘Straw Man’ is still the best song on the album, but it should have been much, much better; a microcosm of Widow’s Weeds.

Strange production issues and the occasional lack of creative impetus aside, the record weighs in as another solid offering from Silversun Pickups. The band finds its groove on singles ‘It Doesn’t Matter Why’ and ‘Freakazoid’ – both highly enjoyable if explicitly unremarkable. The album’s second half is expressly better than the first and features the majority of its lengthier tracks, which is where Silversun Pickups have the most space to conduct the sort of slow build-ups that they’re renowned for. The title track is a melodic goldmine, lazily swaying to warm acoustics that eventually give way to crisp electric riffs with more of a defined progression. Aubert’s voice hovers above the lush instrumental framework, sounding almost angelic. ‘Songbirds’ is this album’s ‘Skin Graph’, sharing a very similar overall progression as well as gorgeous contrast between lavish, melodramatic mini-choruses and heavier riff/drum interchanges that feel like breakdowns on the heels of each sugary refrain. The most intriguing moment on Widow’s Weeds’ back half is undoubtedly its closer, ‘We Are Chameleons’, which bubbles with the kind of experimental energy that is sparse across the other nine tracks. With a frizzy electronic introduction, distorted riffs throughout, and an unnerving detuned guitar outro, ‘We Are Chameleons’ is the closest Silversun Pickups have sounded to their Swoon heyday in quite some time. Ironically, the earworm melodies that are otherwise omnipresent on Widow’s Weeds are conspicuously absent here; a masterstroke of bad timing when you consider that the song possesses everything else it needs – from its rich arsenal of ideas to its bold fervor for execution. All it needs is a sweet, addicting melody to tie it all together, but the band comes up empty-handed. It’s yet another case of this album nearly reaching its potential, but just lacking one critical component. Still, it’s miles ahead of the record’s worst effort – the lyrically and instrumentally repetitive ‘Bag of Bones’ – which serves as Widow’s Weeds’ only abject failure.

Silversun Pickups’ fifth full-length sees the band craft another very enjoyable alt-rock album, but it’s one that is full of holes. For every catchy melody, they seem to abandon their creative spirit. When they aspire for the stars artistically, they can’t seem to locate their tune sense. It’s almost comedic, because they might have just transposed some of these traits from one song to another and ended up with five masterpieces instead of nine or so “decent” songs. Of course it doesn’t work that way, but it’s a shame because Widow’s Weeds contains some of the band’s very best ideas – they’re just scattered in such a way that they’re never given a chance to assume form. Held back by that and Vig’s oft-inability to draw this band’s magic to the surface, Widow’s Weeds may just be the worst Silversun Pickups album to date. It’s saying something that this is still an album worth frequenting; a testament to the talent that bursts from the seams of everything that this band creates. Consider this a rare valley in a career that has been comprised mostly of peaks.




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user ratings (71)
Chart.
3.2
good


Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
June 9th 2019


31501 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

This was a really difficult line to toe because the album is good, but very much disappointing compared to what it could have been.

Digging: Sum 41 - Order In Decline

Hellscythe
June 9th 2019


3879 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

surprised that I seem to be in the minority of people really loving this and thinking it succeeds at what they were trying to do. nice review anyway

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 9th 2019


31501 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

Weird, most of the reactions I've stumbled across have been positive. I thought I was going against the grain. Anyway, appreciate the kind words. Thanks!

BigTuna
June 9th 2019


5328 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I’m loving this one too, Hell. I can’t dislike anything these guys do, so Better Nature wasn’t a let down for me, but it’s my least favorite. This one isn’t quite a return to Swoon, but it still slaps. I’m not sure they’ll ever go back to their old sound. What I like on this one is nearly intangible; I just can’t stop listening.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 9th 2019


31501 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

I've been listening to it quite a bit too, it's definitely got some hooks. I just feel like they could have done so much more with the groundwork they laid. A lot of songs had me going "oh hell yeah, here we go", but then they just continued doing the same thing until they ended without going anywhere special. I have a weird ranking for this band, but for me it's: Neck of the Woods > Better Nature > Swoon > Carnavas > Widow's Weeds. (Honorable mention to the Pikul EP, which rules).

Hellscythe
June 9th 2019


3879 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'm mostly going off the reception I've seen here and on their subreddit (where it's been pretty mixed). no idea what other critics or sites are saying, so maybe the reception is more positive than it seems.



@tuna agreed on Better Nature being their weakest. I think this is somewhat of a return to Swoon, but not in the way I was expecting. I always thought the abundant loud, fuzzy guitars were the missing element holding them back on the last two albums; and to an extent it was, but this album made me realize that the thing I was missing the most was the vibe. the last two albums were a little brighter and more upbeat in places, whereas this one has almost exactly the same dreamlike moodiness and melancholy melodies of Swoon imo. a lot of it reminds me of tracks like It's Nice to Know You Work Alone or Draining.

BigTuna
June 9th 2019


5328 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Odd that you feel that way about this one, because I think apart from Mean Spirits Neck of the Woods shows a similar restraint to Widow’s Weeds. On both those albums I’ve had to teach myself to stop hoping for more.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 9th 2019


31501 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

Skin Graph is absolutely epic, and to me that album has almost a horror/haunted house vibe that gives it so much character. The singles on it rule and it has virtually no filler. One man's opinion, I know that Swoon and Carnavas are the fan darlings.

BigTuna
June 9th 2019


5328 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I’m probably headed for a deep discography dive soon, so I’ll pay attention to that vibe on Neck of the Woods, Sowing. I guess I’m just bummed you’re not enjoying this the way I am!



And Hell, I absolutely agree.

BigTuna
June 9th 2019


5328 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Also I bet this album will translate very well to their live shows.

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
June 9th 2019


7397 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Beautiful review



Wish I had the power of the almighty decimal, this is a pleasantly lame album and a like 3.1-3.2 sounds right

Digging: Joliette - Luz Devora

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 9th 2019


31501 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

Hey if you keep it up maybe you'll have that ability in the future! And thanks, you humble me :-)

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
June 9th 2019


7397 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I’ve made the joke before that I just want the power of the decimal more than anything but there may be some truth to it lol



This album should have been so much better

StonedManatee
June 9th 2019


174 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I wouldn't say it is worse than Better Nature, but Widow's Weed screams mid-career crisis for Silversun Pickups. A lazy return to Swoon era sound without the fuzzy guitars that made me fall in love with them. The melancholy moods on this album are never built up to full potential. It is another lost album in the dead landscape of alt rock.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 9th 2019


31501 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

Am I the only one who thinks Neck of the Woods and Better Nature is the best one-two punch of albums in their discography? Nothing against Swoon and Carnavas, I just feel like they kept getting better.

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
June 9th 2019


7397 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Neck of the Woods is amazing

Better Nature is pretty good but meh

letsgofishing
June 9th 2019


1424 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Neck of the Woods is fantastic. It's definitely their most accomplished and mature album.



I remember Better Nature being pretty bad, outside of a handful of songs, but I also never gave it a second listen.



I'll probably go ahead and give their whole discog a relisten before diving into this.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 9th 2019


31501 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

Better Nature started as a 3.5 for me (see review) and grew all the way to a 4.5. It has so many jams: Connection, Nightlight, Circadian Rhythm, Tapedeck, and Wild Kind are all among my top 20 SSPU tracks. There's also a special magic to that album I just can't describe. I definitely miss Lee's production, he really got the best out of these guys (he did amazing on Neck of the Woods too, which I still say is their very best album).

Muppelope
June 9th 2019


1704 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I agree Neck is their best. But for me it's Neck > Carnavas = Swoon > This > BN

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
June 9th 2019


16401 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is v good probably on par with Swoon for their weakest



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