It’s no secret the sophomore effort of any up-and-coming band is the most difficult to produce and has more potential perhaps than any other effort a band can muster to be career-defining or career-ending. Silversun Pickups have had an uphill battle in this respect, and for many reasons. These indie-rock darlings are among the flagship bands in the resurgence of the los angeles music scene, and more specifically in the epicenter of it all, Silverlake (their name is taken from a convenience store at the intersection of Sunset and Silverlake Boulevards). Carnavas was an astonishing debut effort from a young band if only for its forceful and visceral sound. The beautiful and delicate guitar melodies juxtaposed with a forceful, almost violent rhythm section drew instant comparisons to The Smashing Pumpkins and The Pixies; indeed in many respects Carnavas was pretty derivative. Though it’s arguable to what degree this is so, it did little in the way of tarnishing the Pickups, and despite how derivative the first album may have been, it still showed a monumental amount of potential. Now, the Pickups have returned with an album that promises to fulfill that potential. Swoon indeed fulfills that promise, but make no mistake; the Silversun Pickups don’t intend to be defined by this piece of work…

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As the opening blitzkrieg that is “There’s No Secrets This Year” begins to lift off and soar, you imagine you already know what the rest of this album is going to sound like. The Silversun Pickups come on quick and strong; it seems they’ve opted for a blitz of music that’ll barely give you a moment to fucking think…but not so. As the opening track comes to a close, Brian Aubert softly warns “you better make sure…you better make sure you’re looking closely…before you fall into your swoon…”.Alright. Now the mood is set. This haunting advice permeates the remainder of the album. The Pickups seem almost obsessed with juxtaposing a barely-contained chaos against grace and intricacy. You’ll no doubt notice the addition of a string section in several songs, including “The Royal We”, “Growing Old Is Getting Old”, “Draining”, and “Catch & Release”. The fact is almost all the songs have strings added but the band manages to keep it to an absolute minimum giving the songs a thin sheen of texture; it would have been very easy to overuse the string sections and suffocate the songs, but the Pickups show their aptitude at setting mood and filtering textures to create eloquent and uniquely elegant and demanding songs. In fact, one of the few songs without strings added, “Panic Switch”, is perhaps the one of the better examples of the Pickups articulating their sound; it’s no surprise that this is their first single. It’s one of the heaviest. The Pickups largely soften up on this effort, even when they’re being rough. Tracks like “It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone”, “Catch & Release”, and “Surrounded (or Spiraling)” are beautiful and heady tracks which implement gorgeous string sections and are the best examples of the dynamic sound the Silversun Pickups have fine-tuned and capitalized on.

Where Carnavas was derivative and unimagined, Swoon manages to be creative and defining. In short the Pickups managed to clean and tighten up where they needed to without sacrificing the rough and vibrant energy Carnavas conveyed. They also managed to underline and articulate upon all the elements that made their debut album sound good, though derived, but so so promising. This album is assured a notch in many-a top 10 list for 2009, including yours truly.

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AuthorDr. Jonathan C. Goodvibes
CategoriesMusic Reviews