On paper, Silversun Pickups should work. Spiffy name, top five zip code, leggy girl on bass, androgynous vocalist with access to drama. Their first LP, 2006’s Carnavas, was pretty good and the hit “Lazy Eye” had all the explosive clarity of a nasal cannula. They waited the requisite amount of time between first and second releases, maybe a little more, and steered Swoon‘s early days through carefully milked blog entries and photos of the band in the studio looking effortlessly, approachably cool. So why doesn’t it work?
It’s not new, but it’s a case of better references than resources. Some noticed it adjacent to Carnavas, others buried their suspicions under that 2006 binge of messily atmospheric namesake bands like Editors and I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness. But the rock of Carnavas was indubitably cherubic and maybe Smashing Pumpkins nostalgia was, I dunno, less repellent then. After the thrillingly average Zeitgeist and Billy Corgan’s subseqent descent into madness I don’t want to be reminded of that shit. Although Swoon debuted in the Top Ten, so maybe I’m the moron.
Unheard, Swoon suffers from syntactically weird and/or absurd track titles—”There’s No Secrets This Year,” “Catch & Release,” “It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone,” “Growing Old Is Getting Old.” The first is the album opener and is basically about romantic redundancy, I guess—”I’ll tell you a secret/I’ll make it perfectly clear/there’s no secrets this year.” Still it’s the grammar that gets me. I’m not forgetting that “There’s No Secrets This Year” is filled with all the pretty buzzes and distorted transitions that kept Carnavas so zingy, so there’s no immediate cause for alarm. “The Royal We” starts the missteps: overplayed guitar sections, emotional falsehoods. At the top of certain measures there’s a barely audible lunge and it afflicts more songs than this one. Often the Pickups have itchy trigger fingers and sometimes they try to sell notes before they peak; there’s enough subtle flubbery to suggest a few of the tracks would have benefited from extra takes. “Catch & Release,” the first attempt at the baleful slow-burner that actually worked on Carnavas‘s “Checkered Floor,” goes all tawdry with euphemistic strings that thwart some really well-executed bass. On it Brian Aubert suggests we follow him “down the streams of sweat on your body.” Uh, no. This sort of thing returns later during “Draining,” a technically okay but facile alt-stormer: “dirty sheets pulled to your chin.” I don’t know who I’d rather sleep with less, Aubert or whoever he’s been catting around with.
Elsewhere there’s the horrid hackneyed grunge of “Surrounded”; and “Sort Of,” one segment of which looks better than most lyrics when diagrammed like a sentence: “do you think/ I am/ sort of/ alive.” It sort of sucks. “Panic Switch,” the mainsqueamishly melodic single, again has some great bass (Nikki Monninger really is talented) but the drumming is dull and rather raggedly mixed. In fact if the drums across this record were as well executed as, say, the new Metric to cite a recent example, the title Swoon wouldn’t be such a misnomer. As it is they should have called it Coma.
Editors – The End Has A Start
Earlimart – Everyone Down Here
Smashing Pumpkins – Machina: The Machines Of God.