Review Summary: A few layovers, but at the end of the day, a pretty nice flight.
Shiny Toy Guns’ first album cycle was kind of a hot mess. We Are Pilots was released three times in the span of two years, and the result on the third and final release is one with a polished, electronic sheen. With songwriting five years in the making and some pretty solid synth playing, Shiny Toy Guns represent that electronic-laden alternative rock that was scattered about the early and mid 2000’s. And they do a pretty good job while they’re at it.
Many will remember hearing album opener "You Are The One" in FIFA 07, or even further back in its trance form as "Neo (The One)" in Grand Theft Auto 3. Simply put, it’s a massive, arena-sized song with a catchy, easy-to-follow hook and an infectious melody. Tracks like "You Are The One" is what the band will do best for their entire career. The interplay between the two vocalists is entertaining, the way the chorus explodes in with the wall of guitar is satisfying, and the synths during the verses (those synths, man)just scratch some primal itch in me. "Don’t Cry Out" is another track that follows the same formula, its high point being the yell that frontman Chad delivers, leading into the final countdown-nursery rhyme chorus.
And then there’s the absolute stomper that is "Le Disko", all dominant female energy courtesy of Carah Faye Charrow. She delivers cheesy lines like ‘Now hold onto me, pretty baby / If you want to fly / I'm gonna melt the fever, sugar / Rolling back your eyes’
in earnest, and while no, the band doesn’t write the best lyrics, Carah does her job very well with whatever energy and whatever lines she’s given. It’s when Chad Petree croons on songs that don’t quite have that bite that the flaws become apparent. "When They Came For Us" contains the bands namesake amidst a strange story of a robotic war and its aftermath, and the charm wears off on that really fast. Chad just pulls off "Waiting", one-and-a-half verses pulled over four-and-a-half minutes. "Shaken" takes a little time to get used to, but by the time the tune kicks into overdrive, all is forgiven.
Elsewhere, middle of the road tracks like "Chemistry of a Car Crash" and "Rainy Monday" sound like your average alternative rock songs, the latter happening to have a synth line. These tracks are alright, but on later listens it really drives home how important Jeremy Dawson’s synths are to this band. They know how to incorporate them into a guitar driven sound, and they also know how to go full on synthpop. Title track "We Are Pilots" is a lovely, uplifting track with vocals from Carah about acceptance and it sees no guitars - just some very well put together synthpop.
On that note, I think that the tracks from the first two versions are worth discussing, because they’re a very interesting bunch of left-of-center new wave tracks. "Photograph" is a personal favorite, its punchy beat and stuttering synths reminiscent of a Depeche Mode track, perhaps. Speaking of, the bands take on Depeche Mode's "Stripped" is an odd one, but worth checking out for those sweet, sweet back and forth vocals. On "Sky Fell Over Me", a high pitched voice sings from the afterlife over a mid-tempo beat. It’s easy to see how it could be a turn-off to some, the attempt at a child-like voice coming off more like a chipmunk. That light experimentation is part of the bands charm, though - they were never leading any charges into new territory, but they did what they wanted. Add in tracks like "Joel’s Theme" and "I Promise You Walls", both slow and ruled by airy, almost ambient synths, and you have a pretty solid B-Side release.
In short, Shiny Toy Guns is a band that on paper sounds like it should be having an identity crisis - and they would, on their sophomore effort. But on We Are Pilots, everything fits into place just fine. The electro-clash of Le Disko, the arena rock sounds, the catchy synth-pop, the straightforward rock...All flows together naturally, and is only heightened by the back-and-forth of Chad and Carah. Sure, lyrics could be considered a sore point, and Chad has some questionable vocal moments, but at the end of the day they write some catchy tunes. They write some good, catchy tunes.