I was fortunate enough to witness Silversun Pickups play a three-song acoustic set this summer in tiny radio station studio. They played what was at the time their latest single, what is debatably most popular song, and a throwback from their first album. It wasn’t what they played that was most memorable for me. It was what they said in the interview between songs.
While discussing the band’s fourth studio album Better Nature, which came out September 25, frontman Brian Aubert mentioned how this album felt different. While it was only somewhat jokingly, Aubert said the band always left feeling a little bit iffy when they finished a new record. This time everything felt right. He joked that since the other three ended up being successes, this one might end up flopping.
After listening to Better Nature, I can tell you that it is not a flop. From the band’s first three albums, I have been a casual fan of Silversun Pickups. Each one has a few songs that I won’t skip when I’m on shuffle. I saw them live in 2013 and they struggled to wow me. But now, after this fourth record, I want more.
Maybe it’s the fact that I got to meet the band and they were very cool people that didn’t feel like rock stars. Maybe it’s because they left Dangerbird Records and started their own label, New Machine Recordings. Maybe I just got used to the mysteriously evil sound that resonates from each one of their songs. Whatever it is, Silversun Pickups did something right this time.
The album seems to have a very addicting flow to it. The first song, “Cradle (Better Nature),” has a riff in it that repeats in your head for hours after you listen to it, it isn’t annoying. It’s a desperate cry for help that fades out with chiming toy instruments, making me wonder how much of the record’s inspiration was drawn from the fact that much of the band plays a new role as mom or dad.
Track two, “Connection,” has a soaring chorus that oozes with frustration. Aubert sings, “This is not connection, it’s only an impression.” If I had to take a guess as to what this song is trying to say, it would be that it’s an attack on mainstream music. It might be about a struggle to connect with their kids. I don’t know.
What I do know is that track three is another solid song. “Pins and Needles” uses sweet rhymes and riffs to keep you interested. On previous Silversun Pickups records, I might have been looking through my library for a new artist by the time track three ends.
The next song really gets me thinking. “Friendly Fire” uses a slower tempo and a mind-turning message to bring what could be the album’s best track. Aubert sings of humanity’s incredible achievements in science in technology but then reminds us that there are so many harsh injustices in this world. He tells us that if you can swallow the reality of how scary the world we can live in, you can handle just about anything.
Next comes “Nightlight,” the album’s first single. This is a dark proclamation where the band declares, “We want it” as an echo to each line of the chorus. I don’t know exactly what they want, but I’m fine with it because this song packs a sound that made it one of my favorite tunes of the summer.
“Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” kicks off side two of this record sticking with the usual theme of night and darkness. It tells a bit of a love story too. A back and forth between Aubert and bassist/backup vocalist Nikki Monninger, along with bridge that could be the best part of the album, the track has the makings to be SSPU’s next big radio hit.
The ghost of Aubert (yes, another spooky/dark thought) is brought out in “Tapedeck,” my winner in the category of the most intense track. The chorus booms with anger and regret and the pace pick up as the song moves along.
In a review that has been glowingly positive so far, here’s a little negativity. At track seven, “Latchkey Kids” is very unmemorable. After that, “Ragamuffin” keeps you on edge, but for way too long. For six minutes, you wait for the guitar to break loose and shred, which is a common occurrence in a Silversun Pickups song, but it never really happens. This one brings a lot more of an electronic feel than most of their stuff, and it probably would’ve been better off cutting things down to about four minutes.
Mistakes are made up for in the album’s final track. “The Wild Kind” seems to be a thank you to listeners. It’s a direct address to the audience saying, “You’re not the type to pass us by. We ask you, do you feel alive?” And to that question I give a very confident yes. Ending with a more cheerful sound than anything else I’ve heard from Silversun Pickups, I turn off my speakers pleasantly surprised.
Would I recommend this album to my mother? Probably not. But if you’re looking for some music and you like a whole lot of snare drum and distorted guitar, “Better Nature” isn’t a bad destination. It is almost Halloween after all, and I can’t think of a sound that better matches the theme of the season.