The California four piece are walking a seldom used road with their follow up to the unexpectedly huge success of their 2006 debut Carnavas. They take a path between rock and indie, in almost exactly the same way The Smashing Pumpkins did. Swoon is the perfect title for this record, as it’s what anyone familiar with the band will no doubt do. Rather then re-writing the predecessor, the band has spread out the dynamics, treading into fresh water at either end of the loud/quiet scale without thinning either end.
There’s no secrets this year opens the record with a big cut of distortion swathed rock not unfamiliar to everyone who has heard the first album. The production (again courtesy of debut producer/mixer combo Dave Cooley and Tony Hoffer) is lush and inviting. There are enough layers for you to ponder what’s what in origin, but with a crystal clarity that lets vocals soar, lead guitar slice through, drums to ring and strings nuzzle at clouds overhead. “You better make sure you’re looking closely, before you fall into your swoon” croons Brian over a body of strings at the opening track’s finale, setting the tone for the rest of the album. A smooth Valkyrie of beauty and aggression. Did I really just say that?
Moving along, the blend of strings and distortion leads into The Royal We, the first track to properly show their new found awareness of their dynamics. The sparsely used strings add just enough without being distraction, the underlying song in itself may be the heaviest they’ve yet to commit to tape. It’s obvious a large lump of the year spent recording this was devoted to making sure the softer songs were just as strong as the heavier ones and that the ones not lacking in volume also didn’t lack in melody.
Later on tracks like Panic Switch and Draining only help but show the depth of songwriting skills available to the band and how the strings form part of the songs, rather then feel sprinkled on top as an afterthought. However it’s on stand out track Sort Of that the band crank things up another notch. The song hits middle ground of the album in terms of light/shade, but has a relaxed approach with it. It’s easy to contrast it to an updating of one of my Bloody Valentine’s works. At one point during this six minute epic the band glide into a middle eight section, over a blending bed of guitars and keys lead guitars ring in a fashion comparable to The Wildhearts at their best.
The only issue the album raises is the albatross of the Smashing Pumpkins comparisons. As good as Swoon is both on it’s own and as a step up from Carnavas, it does highlight that Silversun Pickups are quite a two dimensional band. They have pushed both ends of their sound with Swoon, but it leaves me with the impression we now have a full wine rack of their sound. The Pumpkins were famous for their steps into various styles and semantics, Silversun Pickups apparent desire not to step from what’s become routine could well mean by album three they’re starting to sound tired. Only time will tell, for now we have a follow up worthy of their debut to enjoy all summer.
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