Monday, April 20, 2009

Review: Silversun Pickups - Swoon (* * * 1/2)

Still riding the wave of 2007's Carnavas, which produced the infectious and ubiquitous single "Lazy Eye," Silversun Pickups return with Swoon, which the band have labeled as a more varied album in terms of tempo and style than their previous efforts. The record does indeed have a broader range, going from raging rock 'n' roll tunes to melancholy ballads, though the band continues to channel the energy of several alternative rock bands of the 90s, most notably the Smashing Pumpkins (singer Brian Aubert sounding often like a restrained Billy Corgan). The ten tracks of Swoon contain some of the group's best work, even if the record is slightly uneven.

The early-release first single, "Panic Switch," appropriately established expectations for the new album. The bass-heavy verse, full of menace from Aubert's sinisterly signature vocal delivery, transitions into a wash of guitars in the chorus that's lean, mean, and ultimately gripping. The intense "The Royal We" throws some dramatic string arrangements into the mix, while "Sort Of" features an even more explosive rhythm section, but both tracks follow a pattern that Silversun Pickups focus on throughout the record. Much of the aggressive, edgy music is quite good, though the band's self-seriousness can get to you if you're not in the mood for something so dense and heavy. Only on "Substitution" do you get what feels like a more hopeful or pleasant mood - and it works well enough you wish the band would lighten up more often.

Fortunately, the band throw in some more delicate, mid-tempo moments like the slow funk of "Growing Old Is Getting Old," the warm, orchestral "Catch & Release," and the eerie "Draining" to keep things interesting. Even the slower tunes eventually expand into up-tempo rockers after a few minutes, but the more subtle passages add some needed texture to the album and actually end up creating some of the more fascinating tracks.

Silversun Pickups certainly have the ability to craft a good melody, and they pack many of their songs with enough hooks that Swoon is hard to resist even when it feels a bit oppressive. Like Carnavas, the music here should have a fairly broad appeal, but though it veers close to mainstream alt-rock territory, there's no reason to dump this in a bucket with so much of the soulless, radio-ready pop-rock records on the market today. This is a talented bunch, Silversun Pickups, a band that is improving and expanding, and Swoon is the kind of record that bodes good things for their future.