For better or worse, every band / artist and their music is a giant work in progress (except maybe AC DC – but that’s another story altogether). With age and aspiration they evolve and some fans grow with a band and some go in other directions. Better Nature is not its predecessors. Gone is “early 90’s alternative” atmosphere that fans loved on earlier releases Carnavas and Swoon and in its place is the synth/guitar mix being used by many of today’s popular ‘indie-rock’ artists. The result is something more slick and expansive, ‘shoegaze with synth support’ if you will, rather than the passion driven two minute wonders found in their mid 2000’s releases (ie. Carnavas’ “Lazy Eye”).
That isn’t to say Better Nature isn’t a really good record – because, well, it is… but…
Silversun Pickups are at their best when the pedal is down and caution is thrown to the wind, and Better Nature is all about structure… which leads us into a little bit of a contradiction. It seems producer Jacknife Lee is trying to turn Silversun Pickups into Adore era Smashing Pumpkins, and believe me, that isn’t a compliment. It’s great for artists to experiment with sounds, but only when the songs really call for it. In this case, production and layering has taken the place of rocking out.
Lead single “Nightlights” is a good case in point. It starts with a great riff as a song that one can blast loud, but then, it changes course and does all these slow down and layered guitar things that bog down the last minute. Rather than keeping urgency with the heavy guitar, it becomes an act of ‘listen to these cool sounds over here!’ In other words, it becomes a little too indulgent to carry the momentum of song through to its conclusion.
There is a lot to like here as the songs on Better Nature all have pretty cool grooves at their core; however they tend to get lost underneath their own sonic waves. Perhaps their evolution is still in between two places, or maybe, as a fan, they’ve just gone in a direction where I can’t follow, but Silversun Pickups have created a good record that might have been great.