Album Reviews

Silversun Pickups – Swoon

(Warner) UK release date: 13 April 2009

First off, a bit of backstory. Silversun Pickups come from Los Angeles’ Silver Lake district, home to adiverse yet interesting range of artists (the most notable of which includeElliot Smith, Rilo Kiley, Henry Rollins, members of Pavement and the YeahYeah Yeahs’ Karen O). Their name derives from the name of a localshopping mall, and they are signed to local label Dangerhouse Records.Swoon is their second full-length release, following their 2006 debutCarnavas.

Lead singer Brian Aubert’s curious vocal style is most often likened toSmashing PumpkinsBilly Corgan and there is, indeed, anoticeable Pumpkins feel to much of the material here. Equally, though,echoes of other singers like Conor Oberst (in the tremulous, slightlyfey delivery), or even Scritti Politti‘s Green Garside canalso be heard, countering accusations that this is in any way a deliberateimpersonation.

The distinctive, earnest-sounding and sometimes rather whiney singing isoffset by the ballsy guitar and bass playing. Particularly heavy riffagefeatures on the impact-making opener There’s No Secrets This Year, and isalso strewn throughout the album on tracks like The Royal We and Sort Of.

They also hint at their axe-wielding heroes/influences by obliquelynamechecking Led Zeppelin, using the lyric “When the levees break” inIt’s Nice To Know You Work Alone. Bass guitar lines are often featuredto the fore and add a touch of funk, as on GrowingOld, Panic Switch and Catch & Release.

Their music is all very serious in tone and,presumably, in intent. A lot of the lyricism is of the “sufficiently vaguethat it could mean one of a number of things” school, but it’s occasionallyjust plain weak: “When there’s smoke in the sky / Please don’t wake me Idon’t know why” (from Sort Of), for example. The mood evoked is ofteneither one of wistfulness (It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone, Draining,Substitution, Catch & Release) or a sort of catch-all ill-definedportentousness that often tips over into melodrama (The Royal We, PanicSwitch, Sort Of).

This can become a little wearisome, but where Silversun Pickups scoremuch more highly is on their way with a melody. The tunes in the likes ofThere’s No Secrets This Year, It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone, Sort Of andthe well-structured closing track Surrounded all are of that type thatmanage to creep into your subconscious and then bedding down there, toreappear, unsummoned, at unguarded moments.

Swoon, then, is a mixed listening experience, with the solemnity andover-seriousness of the general tone and the occasionally grating nature ofthat voice being more or less mitigated by some lovely melodies andfirst-rate guitar riffs. Negotiating the grey area between rock and, well,indie-rock, it is to be hoped that Swoon doesn’t find itself falling betweenthe two. Rather, as seems more likely, it’ll pick up fans from adherents ofboth.

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