Album Review: Silversun Pickups – Better Nature

Silversun Pickups Better Nature cover

Better Nature is Californian quartet Silversun Pickups’ fourth album, the follow-up to 2012’s superb Neck of the Woods.

They’ve always written brilliant dreamy shoegaze songs with a hint of danger, but never managed to receive much attention in New Zealand. New World supermarkets started to use ‘Lazy Eye’ in their advertisements a few years ago, but I still see Silversun Pickups as an underrated indie secret. Better Nature is more energetic than the previous albums, hinting that it may prove to be the break through album in New Zealand.

(Clockwise from L-R): Joe Lester (keyboards), Nikki Monninger (bass), Christopher Guanlao (drums), Brian Aubert (guitar, vocals). Credit: Rebekkah Drake

(Clockwise from L-R): Joe Lester (keyboards), Nikki Monninger (bass), Christopher Guanlao (drums), Brian Aubert (guitar, vocals). Credit: Rebekkah Drake

The titular opening track ‘Cradle (Better Nature)’ is more explosive than I had expected from the band based on their earlier output. I realised something different was up at the songs halfway point, when the choral chant of “Better! Nature!” launches into a raunchy guitar solo. The previously shy shoegaze sound has turned frantic and demands the listener’s attention, while still retaining the attractive fuzziness. Second song ‘Connection’ follows up just as strong.

It’s the same Silversun Pickups sounds that you know – crisp drums, throbbing bass, ethereal fuzzy guitar and atmospheric synths. But this time it’s a case of more. More variety, more attitude, more wild and unkempt. Frontman Brian Aubert even looks more wild. Watch the video of their last video clip (Cannibal) and compare his appearance to the ‘Nightlight’ video and you’ll see what I mean.

Better Nature features loads of interesting sounds and tones, lurking almost into industrial territory at times. For example, ‘Friendly Fires’ reminds me of soundtrack work that the album’s mixer Alan Moulder has done alongside Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor in the past. It begins with threatening throbbing bass that evokes a tense thriller scene, before the introduction of chirpy keys reminiscent of Jay Z’s “New York State of Mind”. The cut out chorus sung a capella over hand claps adds to the eerie feel..

Lead single ‘Nightlight’ also has a lot of similar elements to Nine Inch Nail’s ‘Hand That Feeds’. It’s not as upbeat, but the distinctive drumming, moody bass, and victorious chorus make it a perfect synth pop anthem.

(WARNING the above video contains violence and nudity.)

It’s impressive that the band can keep their familiar signature sound and still write songs that sound different. You can tell that they’ve made an effort to prevent the songs all sounding the same. Many start strong and unique, before slowly reverting back to the usual fuzzy sound. And there are so many strange outros that don’t match their respective songs. Clinky slow xylophones, a child singing, and odd vocals all feature in outros that seem out of place, in attempt to mix things up.

‘Pins & Needles’ is my personal favourite, featuring a groovy swagger thanks to slide guitar before returning to the familiar infectious fuzzy sound. The guitar solo is a ripper too, with some delicious tones. ‘Tapedeck’ has lovely resonating marimba or vibraphone playing over a dancy syncopated beat and dripping with odd sounds that allude to industrial music. The expansive slow chorus sounds odd juxtaposed against the driven verses, but it works. Bassist Nikki Monninger takes over lead vocal duties in the echoed chorus of ‘Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)’ and her voice is so good it’s a wonder that she didn’t feature more prominently throughout the album.

Better Nature is great – both recognisable and fresh. It’s more dangerous and wild than the previous albums, with the same brilliant aspects that made them so good. It’s not as dreamy anymore, but the dark new urgency makes for more exciting music.

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Joseph James

EP Review: Koji – Fury

Koji Fury EP Cover

Koji first came to my attention after releasing split EPs with label mates Into It. Over It and La Dispute. Unlike those two bands, I wouldn’t consider Koji emo or pop-punk like Into It. Over It. Nor is he hardcore and intensely dramatic like La Dispute. But both splits just seemed to work as great marriages between the artists involved. Koji is hard to classify because he has a sound that is both versatile and recognisable. He’s a laid back singer/songwriter with a voice that sounds earnest and warm and songs that seems both simple and thoughtfully crafted, with subtly intimate details.

Fury departs from Koji’s acoustic past but still remains infectious. Musically, it’s more like straightforward indie rock, but manages to stay interesting without the using choirs and violins and other such instruments that Koji has used previously.

Title track ‘Fury’ doesn’t appear to contain a super catchy hook, but it refuses to leave my head. I’ve listened to it so many times over the past few days. Each time the song seems to get better, and each time it gets further entrenched in my mind. I swear my dreams have even had ‘Fury’ playing as the soundtrack for my subconscious adventures.

The following three songs continue with the earworm treatment as well. “Breaking And Broken” is ridiculously catchy with its rhyming choruses, as is ‘Everyday’, with its repeated lines and memorable guitar lines. Closing track ‘Question’ rounds off the EP perfectly by slowing down the pace but keeping up the mood.

There’s a fuzzy shoegaze vibe that permeates throughout the songs, whilst still remaining carefree and upbeat; a formula of Silversun Pickups and early Smashing Pumpkins with a bonus dose of happiness to offset depression.

Fury is thoroughly addictive, with each listen fueling the need for another. I just cannot get enough of it. Go have a listen and get hooked yourself.

Joseph James

Album Review: FVNERALS – The Light

FVNERALS, The Light - Album Cover

FVNERALS is a band hailing from Brighton, UK, who have asked me to give my thoughts on their debut album, The Light, before its release on December 1st. I probably live as far as physically possible from Brighton, so how they discovered my blog, and why they would want an amateur like myself to review their work is a mystery. But I feel quite chuffed that someone would seek me out to ask for my opinion, so I’ll honour their request.

Their Bandcamp profile offers the genre tags such as “dark ambient”, “drone”, “post-rock”, “shoegaze” and one I’ve never heard of: “slowcore”.

According to FVNERALS guitarist Syd, his band has drawn comparisons to the likes of Earth, Shannon Wright, Chelsea Wolfe, Beach House, Monarch etc… This would possibly give me an idea of what FVNERALS sound like, if I had actually heard of any of those artists. I think I recognise elements of Isis and My Bloody Valentine, but I feel that may be misleading. I’ll offer some other comparisons as I go.

FVENERALS are dark. If the band name wasn’t gothic enough for you, check out at the names of their labels: Throne Records and Eerie Echoes Records. Have a look at that album cover and tell me it’s not spooky. And of course, the music itself is haunting and unsettling. To be honest I’m surprised that they’re releasing the album at the beginning of December, rather than end of October, because it would make a perfect horror Halloween soundtrack.

Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes comes to mind when I picture the music being performed live. I saw her front a Mars Volta side project called Bosnian Rainbows early last year and I swear she was possessed. Her voice may be pretty, but I got the chills watching the way she staggered and contorted her body in such an unnatural manner as she sang.

The Light is eerie and sparse. It reminds me of playing a 45rpm record at 33rpm.  This makes the sounds drawn out, warped and sluggish, because the audio becomes down and distorted. Don’t get me wrong, the music is still recorded clearly, but it is soooo slooooow and stripped down.

The music is dark, distorted and droning. It is the sound of paranoia and nightmares. Much of it reminds me of that Godspeed You Black Emperor inspired track that was used so effectively in Danny Boyle’s game-changing zombie film, 28 Days Later.

If you want a taste of FVNERALS you can check out, where The Hours EP is available for free download. Two tracks from forthcoming album, The Light, will be made available for streaming on November 3rd.

Joseph James