Just Because It’s Popular Doesn’t Mean It Sucks: Silversun Pickups

Sometimes, your impression of a piece of music is dependent almost entirely upon the circumstances under which you listen to it. Under the auspices of that theory, this album needs to be listened to 1) loud, and 2) while moving very quickly. I don’t care if it’s by bus, train or car—the control for this article consisting mostly of a 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser with an aftermarket stereo along with brief excursions, years ago, on the GO bus that used to run between York University and Newmarket—but make sure you’re moving if you intend to take my advice and listen to this record.

PS Yes, I have better things to do than to copy out the lyrics to something like this in Movie Maker, timed to the video. Just listen. The radio edit doesn’t have the ending I like.

Songs that feature a lot of tempo shifts, instrumentation dropping in and out, key changes and the like don’t make for very good car music. There’s too much going on that you have to focus entirely too much energy on.

“Ah—the flutes are back. Mahavishnu Orchestra, you’ve done it again!” CRASH.

Instead, car music tends to be repetitive and heavy—and frequently from the ‘80s. Luckily, as well as Crue and Badlands, there exists Silversun Pickups. Their first full-length album, Carnavas, featuring the smash single “Lazy Eye,” caught a lot of people by surprise, probably because it sounds so much like the first 2 Smashing Pumpkins records. While not featuring the breadth of material on Gish or Siamese Dream or as many tempo changes or even key changes song to song as a great fusion record, this group has managed to make a record that’s a great soundtrack to the drive from Horseshoe Valley Road to Keswick along the 400 at 1am while still being interesting. The album flows very well, with very few pitfalls or ‘fast-forward’ songs. It’s… even, I guess we could call it, which is both a good and bad thing. Like I said, listen to it while you’re on the go.

I JUST noticed Joaquin Phoenix directed that. I will refrain from posting my opinion on the quality of the video; just remember that the man grows what is perhaps the most unfortunate beard in existence and be kind.

Anyway, the record has some fairly inventive riffing as well as some interesting switchbacks and sections in it. The outro to “Lazy Eye” may be one of my favorites ever, a shifting chorus of echoes crashing back and forth around the remains of such an inauspicious, unassuming introduction.

But, at least on this album, Silversun Pickups try very hard to be more than just a louder, better-mixed version of the Pumpkins. With loosely-connected lyrics, there’s an almost  poetic chain of association based on subject matter throughout the first 5 songs that sort of builds to a climax in “Lazy Eye,” with the rest of the record existing as the regretful and apologetic aftermath of the abandon the band evidences there, where they cut loose for about 3 minutes.

It’s a good album, that’s for sure. Maybe not a great one, but certainly better than the one-hit wonder tags they’ve been fighting off for a few years would suggest, especially since the release of Swoon. It’s got sufficient scope to be listenable for a long time, with each song jigsawing together into a solid (if monotone) picture that definitely leaves you with a feeling after the last note fades.

Maybe that’s part of why it’s such a great car record: the loneliness and bitterness the singer’s screaming about throughout most of the album serves to push someone forward, to go faster, farther and get the hell away from whatever situation they just left. Actually, I’ll admit I was debating writing about their next record, Swoon, but Carnavas is just so much better. Or it could be that every time I listen to it, it’s just me and the yellow of the streetlights on the highway, in that surreal kind of contrast you only get late at night when there’s nobody on the road.

Let’s break the window panes / And separate the walls from all the nails / Cause maybe if we’re loud, we’ll stay alive / While everybody wants to join the fight

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One thought on “Just Because It’s Popular Doesn’t Mean It Sucks: Silversun Pickups

  1. Wow, they do sound a lot like The Smashing Pumpkins. I’m surprised I’m familiar with “Lazy Eye” — I didn’t think I’d listened to any radio since 2007. (Oh. Wikipedia tells me it was used in Rock Band 2? . . . No. I haven’t played that. Is the song just that ubiquitous?)

    Completely unrelatedly, does your cat ever snore?

    Also, let me know what you think of Kicking Tomorrow.

    Jeff Martin at the Mod Club would be cool. But anyway.

    Hope things are going well!

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