The Silversun Pickups are a long way from Swoon’s “Panic Switch,” which translates to about 6 years (or one bachelor and master’s degrees’ year’s worth of study). Better Nature definitely has a more restrained and thoughtful sound and feel about it, as one might expect of an older, more thoughtful and educated in the ways of the world and human nature, group of musicians. The only problem is that all that thoughtfulness, which leads to airy musical atmospherics as opposed to grungy grounding, has caused Silversun Pickups’ sound to regress instead of progress. Better Nature is thoughtful sonically and lyrically, but to the detriment of the intensity and unique supersonic, yet grounded, sound of their early albums-a sound that made Silversun Pickups something truly inspiring musically and emotionally.
Most bands don’t want to write the same songs over and over, even if some bands (Metallica, U2, and Pearl Jam) encounter great success doing so. Bands like Pearl Jam deviate very slightly, if at all, from what makes their songs and sound so powerful, yet manage to feel fresh and unique with every album released. Silversun Pickups were well on their way to the same type of unique and powerful sonic status with Carnavas and Swoon. Then came Neck of the Woods. The more straightforward 90s alt-guitar rock which swayed from shoegaze to an individualistic take on Billy Corgan’s “grunge in furs” fuzz buzz obviously owed much to artists like Corgan, but Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert made the sound all his own with his unique vocals while drummer Christopher Guanlao’s staccato smacks distanced the band from Smashing Pumpkins-like rhythms nicely. Then came Neck of the Woods…
…and now we have Better Nature, for better or worse. There is much that made Silversun Pickups what they were on Carnavas and Swoon present on Better Nature, but it’s now lost in a swirl of synth-pop atmospherics and techno beeps and boops. The Silversun Pickups of Better Nature have more in common with Eurythmics and Depeche Mode (once they discovered the guitar) than Smashing Pumpkins or My Bloody Valentine-hence the sonic regression. There was a good bit of this type of sound on Neck of the Woods-hence the disappointment with this album as alluded to above-but there at least the darkness of the overall musical atmosphere lent itself to a certain weight that kept the album grounded. On Better Nature, too often the synths send the songs spinning out of control and off into a glitter spangled twilight that is just a little poppy and colorful for a band that once had such a natural world grounding (a la grungy) sound.
One of the better moments on Better Nature is “Connection” with its sly social commentary on our society’s social media additions and its interesting guitar work that is reminiscent of early Silversun Pickups. The dance backbeat makes “Connection” a pop rather than rock song though-for better or worse. “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” is the album’s best moment. A steady beat, contributed vocals from the wonderfully talented Silversun Pickups bassist Nikki Monninger, plenty of acoustic and electric guitar lines that interweave nicely, and just enough restraint to create the proper tension necessary to cause the listener to crave the release the band hints at in the song’s final movement all come together to recreate and, more importantly, advance (by building upon the band’s greatest musical momennts: “Lazy Eye,” “The Royal We,” “Panic Switch,” “Little Lover’s So Polite”). Sadly, it’s only one of a handful of these moments. Better Nature would have benefited from more.