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Saturday
Apr182009

Silversun Pickups

WEEKEND VIDEO

"Panic Switch"
Swoon
2009
iTunes

The guitar distortion that eats up much of the air on Swoon — the fine, at times genuinely exciting second album by Silversun Pickups — comes in many forms, including wounded-bear roars, pissed-off-snake hisses and black-syrup rivers of drone. In one song, "Panic Switch," singer-guitarist Brian Aubert is a fuzz orchestra unto himself, opening with a dirty grunting lick, jumping into the chorus with an iron wall of strum and stuffing the bridge with rusted treble. At one point, he hits thick, humming notes that slither over Nikki Monninger's bass and Christopher Guanlao's drums like impatient snakes. There is also an uncanny resemblance to the great toothpaste-fuzz lead in Iron Butterfly's 1968 freakout "Iron Butterfly Theme."

In their own way, this Los Angeles quartet are boldly retro, drawing from the noisy distress of Nineties alternative rock, particularly the neopsychedelic convulsions of Smashing Pumpkins and the British om-pop band Ride. Swoon improves on the Pickups' 2006 debut, Carnavas, with less slavish writing and more articulated dynamics. In "Growing Old is Getting Old," Aubert sounds like he's singing from behind the bass and Joe Lester's dusk-light keyboards. Later, as the rest of the band bolts forward in the mix, so does Aubert, his guitar chords verging on screams. "Sort Of" is a wily Cure-like mix of viscera (tumbling drums, explosive guitar) and vocal anxiety.

The Pickups know how to create a mood, not always when to break it. "Draining" is all shuffle and sigh, a dip in momentum after the decisive violence of "Panic Switch." But there is a purpose here, to find daylight and enjoy it, that is totally pop. "We slide into delight," Aubert sings in "Growing Old," in overdubbed harmonies that are more Prefab Sprout than Pearl Jam, as distortion swells around him. His band still has some growing to do, but it knows how to have fun with fuzz and where to find the beauty in noise.

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