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Music Reviews

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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Silversun Pickups

Rating: 5/10 ?

August 25, 2006
I have no idea what a Silversun Pickup is, but it has a nice ring to it. When I read that the Pickups are leading the supposed LA Silver Lake music boom, even better. Carnavas is the title of their debut album, and I definitely don't know what that means. For a band that employs such oblique wordplay, they sure write some of the most basic rock this side of the Valley. I suppose not every Angeleno can be named Beck.

Carnavas starts out well-meaning enough; the opening track "Melotonin" (more tilted text) incorporates nice harmonies over a backdrop of fuzzy guitar and is a definite attention grabber. Reminiscent of Luna, the sound is steady and moody; no frills, but none needed. Next up is "Well Thought Out Twinkles," and with it the album begins to slip. Hard driving guitar licks lead to an feeling of simple overexertion, that Silversun Pickups are trying too hard. Add a refrain that sounds right out of a Jefferson Starship tune circa 1982, and I'm not feeling any twinkles. By the third song "Checkered Floor," I'd pretty much decided that I'd had enough of this 80's rock rehash. But then, saved by the bell, track four hit the speakers and I was back on board. "Little Lover's So Polite" continues to rely heavily on reverb, keyboards and distortion, but stops the downward spiral vis a vis solid songwriting, both musically and lyrically.

Herein lies the problem with Silversun Pickups: they are frustratingly inconsistent. Every song that has merit is followed by one that makes the stop button a tempting option; and then a bit of a salvage operation comes a song or two later. Nowhere is this more evident than with "Lazy Eye." This tune rocks it with near precision, and if the entire album was one elongated "Lazy Eye," I'd be rating this album as a must-have. Wearing its proletariat rock influence with pride, the song pulsates to a steady-as-she-goes drumbeat, buoyed by drifting guitars and a melodic bassline that carries the day. The vocals are perfectly subdued, punctuated with a screamo mid-section, coinciding with a rush of guitars to the head. This one had me reaching instead for the volume knob - way up. Then after three more lethargic tracks that take the album nowhere, Carnavas closes with "Common Reactor," a bouncy pop nugget that also hits its stride and barely atones for it's predecessors save for its gratuitous feedback ending. Too little, too late.

Carnavas had potential, but at 56 minutes this debut is plainly too long. The deal killer is too much filler: like an 80-minute film that plays for over 2 hours, it's just too hard to get through, and after a while it is all too easy to stop paying attention. I do think Silversun Pickups have promise, but I am confused by their tendency to skip sinuously between the good and bad. Half of this album's tracks have effortless flow, the other half seem like a struggle to get though, both for the band and the listener. Is it rotating songwriters perhaps? Possibly, but the entire band is given writing credits for all tracks. Whatever the cause, the lack of a true-north hinders what could have been a solid introduction to the group.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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