PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Silversun Pickups: Carnavas

This enjoyable disc hearkens back to when indie rock hooks were big, and the guitars sounded even bigger.

Silversun Pickups


Label: Dangerbird
US Release Date: 2006-07-25
UK Release Date: 2006-07-24

Admit it, as soon as this post punk thing started to get stale, you knew a '90s alternative rock revival was only a matter of time. At a time when American guitar-based rock has veered ever so close to self-parody, from the hyperkinetic caterwauling of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! to the hair metal flash and questionable sincerity of emocore, those of us who devoured indie rock 10 to 15 years ago can't help but let our minds wander back to a time when there seemed to be a never-ending supply of bands that specialized in big guitars and big hooks. Smashing Pumpkins, Sugar, Dinosaur Jr., Velocity Girl, Veruca Salt, Magnapop... you could go on and on listing bands who scored college radio hits from that time. Say what you will about today's indie rock (with so many bands out there, it's not like there's a serious dearth of good music), but it's been such a long time since we got anything comparable to such terrific singles as "Helpless" and "Seether", that we can't help but hope that will all change.

With bands like Asobi Seksu and Film School deftly combining early '90s shoegazer tones with good pop songwriting, California outfit Silversun Pickups heads in a similar direction, but it's far from a facile collection of hooks and melodies, as the quartet shows impressive depth on their debut full-length. The focal point is singer/guitarist Brian Aubert, who adds layers of guitars, ranging from chiming, to insistent, to droning, while singing in a compellingly androgynous voice that instantly conjures memories of Billy Corgan 15 years ago. And that's not where the Pumpkins comparison ends, as the band draws from both the moody Gish and the more accessible Siamese Dream, with hints of Ride, the Pixies, and My Bloody Valentine tossed in as well, making for a sound that has the potential to go over very well with those who remember the Pumpkins' salad days.

At nearly an hour long, there's a lot to digest on Carnavas, and it's no surprise that the more upbeat material wins us over the quickest. The lively "Well Thought Out Twinkles" begins with a groove riff that sounds like something Wolfmother would do, but instead quickly veers off into a highly melodic verse dominated by Aubert's distinct rasp and lilting chords before the primary riff makes an explosive re-entry. "Little Lover's So Polite" sounds reminiscent of Guided By Voices, dominated by a wonderfully fuzzed-out bassline courtesy Nikki Monninger, who plays Kim Deal to Aubert's Black Francis during the bridges, the duo's shared lead vocals complementing each other nicely. "Future Foe Scenarios" shifts from winsome to brooding, a tense number that features some of Aubert's best lyrics, his imagery leaving an indelible impression ("A motorcade of 'meant to be's' / Parades of beauty queens / Where soft entwines make kindling / These many detailed things / Like broken nails and plastic rings"). The wistful "Common Reactor" brings the album to a sublime close, the insistent melody underscored by squalls of guitar drone before careening to a distorted climax.

Solid as the aforementioned songs are, the more pensive music might prove to be even more rewarding in the long run, as the band shows there's more to the music than just noisy guitars and contagious choruses. "Melatonin" is an understated opening track, Aubert and Monninger sharing vocal duties over a wall of crashing chords, while Monninger's ascending bassline carries the tetchy "Waste it On" and Aubert's lithe guitar accents suit the Grandaddy-esque "Lazy Eye" well. Keyboardist takes full advantage of the quieter moments to add a dreampop element, good examples being the languid "Checkered Floor" and the lovely "Rusted Wheel". Meanwhile, "Three Seed" provides the prettiest moment on Carnavas, the kind of bleary-eyed ballad that would have been a perfect fit on the great Singles soundtrack, standing alongside the Pumpkins' "Drown".

Assured as Carnavas is, it has its imperfections, the most noticeable glitch being the lack of a tight rhythm section, Christopher Guanlao's predictable drumming sounding utilitarian at best, and pedestrian at worst (if anything, reminding us of just how talented a percussionist Jimmy Chamberlin is). There's not an original idea on the album whatsoever, but Silversun Pickups, flaws and all, show enough vitality in their performance to win us over, reminding us of a time when hooks mattered, and American indie rock ruled, and restoring hope that it just might happen again.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.