REVIEW: Silversun Pickups – Physical Thrills

Multicoloured screen with the silhouette of a person behind it

I was in Los Angeles for three years of school and still have close friends there. I have a genuine affection for the city that is perhaps unusual for a Northern Californian. Recently, my friends and I got together and walked from Century City to Silver Lake along the fabulous Sunset Strip. The Strip is all glaring sidewalks and sharp diagonals in the daylight. I don’t recommend doing this, unless with good compamy.

We made it to Silversun Liquors. This band got its name from its booze runs there. We took pictures; it was a highlight. This new album would have been a perfect soundtrack for that walk. I could listen to this all day long and, in fact, have.

Silversun Pickups are big on motifs, the in-song repetitions that get under your skin. The stone-cold classic, ‘Lazy Eye’, has that repeated little curlicue of guitar that portends the explosion to come.  (Their performance of it on The David Letterman Show is worth a YouTube search.) ‘Lazy Eye’ is 16 years old now (!!) and to some extent Silversun Pickups have been chasing that high ever since.

With Physical Thrills they have succeeded to a large degree. Silversun Pickups wear their ‘90’s influence on their sleeves: Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine, and Smashing Pumpkins, among others. ‘Sticks and Stones’ could be on In Rainbows. ‘We Won’t Come Down’ echoes Deerhunter’s epic anthem ‘Desire Lines’ and then devolves into an exciting breakdown suggesting McCartney’s Live and Let Die theme, Lead singer Brian Aubert, of course, sounds quite a bit like Mr. William Corgan, that overly sensitive son of a bitch, famously offended for years by an offhand bitchy Pavement slag.

But, these familiar sounds are clothed in a distinctive Southern California dress.. Just as an e.g.,the band’s phenomenal bassist, Nikki Monninger, goes all Flea on ‘Hidden Moon.’ This song shreds. It’s more than that, though. I’m not sure there is a band that sounds so much like its name. They have created a soundtrack for a run to a Silver Lake liquor store.

This album sounds really good. It has a warmth and depth but with a suggestion of depravity, and a vague promise that everything will be o.k. It’s the sound of the world through scratched sunglasses when you are high and strolling by a shuttered Whiskey A Go Go. It’s eating at restaurants on Pico, jumping in the surf in Malibu and drinking Lucky Lagers in Brentwood. Is this too personal? Sorry. Hit me up and I’ll take you around L.A.

This album has the signature motifs. Acoustic guitar does it on the engaging opener ‘Stillness (Way Beyond)’; vocals on ‘Scared Together’; piano on ‘Hereafter (Way After). Throughout, these earworms burrow through a bottom-heavy sound. This rhythm section sounds fantastic and is front and center. I bet these songs are amazing live.

Is everything all good? No. I’m not a fan of the ‘Dreams’ interludes. I skip those like I skip the skits in early ‘90’s hip-hop albums. The album is a bit long, some songs could have been cut short (you have to understand, Minutemen are my ideal.)

But, ‘Empty Nest’ is wonderful, everything about it.  This is one of my favourite songs of the year. The reverb, that repeated “ay,” the changes in tempo.

‘Sticks and Stones’  has an anthemic coda that hits me in the feels. Stay Down (Way Down)’ should have closed the album with a bang, a collision of Laurel Canyon with Silver Lake that results in an uptempo delight.

Uptempo Delight should be an ice cream flavor or a stripper name. Or both. That’s L.A., baby. This album rules.

Words by Rick Larson

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