Silversun Pickups - Widow's Weeds
One EP and four albums deep, the Silver Lake band has provided fans with some of the best songs in alternative rock of the past 10 years.
Their appeal can be attributed to each of the four members. Frontman Brian Aubert’s somewhat androgynous vocals stand on their own and are instantly recognizable. Bassist Nikki Monninger has been the backbone of the band since its inception and holds an almost motherly presence in the group.
You’ve got the spectacled keyboardist/sampler/sound manipulator Joe Lester who can be credited for much of the subtle atmospheric arrangements. And of course, drummer Chris Guanlao, who has a presence all his own behind the kit: crash cymbal raised abnormally high, ride cymbal to the left of the hi-hat, playing with an open-handed fervor that is matched by few drummers in the scene.
Now, nearly four years since their last release, the band is back with album number five. Widow’s Weeds marks the second release through the band’s own imprint, New Machine Recordings. It also is their first time working with producer Butch Vig, the drummer from the 90’s rock group, Garbage, and the producer behind Nirvana’s Nevermind. So yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.
Time may determine otherwise, but the new hit appears to be the lead single, “It Doesn’t Matter Why”.
A fabulously driven track with a dark overtone and a message that surely is interpreted uniquely by each listener.
“It doesn’t matter why we’re known/We’re just known.”
However you choose to receive the song, there’s no denying the ominous presence within the words and sound. The inclusion of a string section adds to the mounting tension and bears semblance to some of the music from their Swoon days, now 10 years gone.
The song breaks open in the bridge and provides possibly the strongest moment on the entire album:
“You’re on your own and in your eyes/You finally see we’ve all gone blind.”
It’s a brash turn from the cold and tight delivery of the surrounding song, releasing an emotion that feels as if it was boxed up and finally given the chance to breathe. It’s this that brings the song full circle and gives the single the stamp of approval as another Silversun classic.
Feel-good music is not what comes to mind with Silversun Pickups. They’ve never been there to answer life’s questions and provide relief to our problems. They bask in the struggles with us and share poetry on their own interpretation of the world we’re in. They’re lyrically dense and each song gives the listener a chance to take it as they will.
With Widow’s Weeds, the theme of questions-over-answers continues. The album title alone doesn’t inspire happiness, and throughout the set, the band is clearly not aiming to leave the listener with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
There is, however, plenty to appreciate on this release. Nearly 15 years since their debut, the band is not showing any signs of softening their sound, and they continue to push out inventive and powerful melodies.
A stand-out amongst the 10 new tracks is “Don’t Know Yet”. A sparse verse builds to the best hook of the album, the snare of the drums marching the band through an infectious chorus that feels well-suited for a battle scene.
Grungy guitar plays the lead role in following track, “Straw Man”. The most lyrically vacant of the group, it still holds an obscure message, seemingly poking at a “straw man” with a limited mindset.
“Bag of Bones” does well at painting a fowl image in your mind and is up there as one of the most unsettling tracks the band has ever written. The sing-along chorus, however, helps in covering the discomfort of it all.
The title track, though composed of two words that hold negative connotations, is one of the lighter and more open melodies of the album. It almost comes off as a love song of sorts, and when Aubert sings of being covered “head to toe in widow’s weeds,” he seems happy about it. The song closes with the line, “Here is where I’ll leave you be/You would do the same for me.” Again, take it as you will.
In comparison to the impressive discography the band has created over the years, it’s hard to say where Widow’s Weeds fits. A band with such an impressive history will always be under the shadow of their former work and Silversun Pickups is no exception.
Though the nostalgia of their early work will likely never be outdone with new material, fans of the band should find little reason to be disappointed with the latest offering from the Los Angeles band.