A quick glance at the lyric sheet to “We Are Chameleons,” the show-stopping finale from Silversun Pickups’ 2019 LP Widow’s Weeds, reveals the track to be as much a band mission statement as it is a criticism of modern wealth structures. “We always change like chameleons,” screams singer/guitarist Brian Aubert on the closer to his Los Angeles alt-rock group’s fifth full-length. “Flash bright like the Fourth of July.”
Indeed, you can always count on Silversun Pickups to do both. The quartet, born out of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s Silver Lake music scene, named themselves after a liquor store in the heart of that neighborhood — naturally, at the corner of Silver Lake and Sunset. Rounded out by bassist/singer Nikki Monninger, keyboardist Joe Lester and drummer Chris Guanlao, the band was introduced to the world at large with the Pikul EP in summer 2005. Its seven tracks of delightfully fuzzy lo-fi didn’t quite turn the volume up to 11 like future releases, but the heavenly guitar heroics and lullaby-like melodies of lead single “Kissing Families” suggested they’d soon be visiting bottle shops across the globe.
Nobody (especially the band members) expected that to happen so quickly, though. When a Philadelphia DJ took it upon himself to trim the sprawling, six-minute album track “Lazy Eye,” from 2006’s Carnavas, down to a concise four-and-a-half, the outfit’s debut long-player picked up some serious steam. Worshipping at the twin altars of Siamese Dream and Loveless, Carnavas shone a spotlight on Silversun Pickups’ rare ability to conjure both daydreams and nightmares — often within the same composition.
The common reactors of Aubert’s gruff gasps, Monninger’s mellifluous harmonies, Lester’s misty textures and Lester’s madman rhythms propelled both “Lazy Eye” and “Well Thought Out Twinkles” to the Top 10 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, while the record itself hit number one on the publication’s Heatseekers list. By 2009’s Swoon — the sophomore effort highlighted by #1 hit “Panic Switch” — the foursome was headlining Coachella’s second-biggest stage, entrusted with entertaining attendees between Morrissey and Paul McCartney.
After the dream-come-true that was Silversun Pickups’ first two album cycles, it’s clear there was only one place to go — into the dark recesses of a twilit terror. The gory imagery and pummeling musical patterns of tunes like “Skin Graph” and “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” define 2012’s Neck of the Woods, while follow-up Better Nature’s brightly-colored cover art of an exploding head is all too appropriate. With Lester and Guanlao employing vibrant synthesizers and syncopated beats more than ever before on that 2015 LP, the four- and six-stringers are given free reign to go Spinal Tap on their instruments, blowing out the amplifiers on such thunderous numbers as “Cradle (Better Nature)” and “Connection.” The two later trade vocals on centerpiece “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance),” an effortlessly gorgeous duet over a vintage SSPU groove (and the first Pickups original to clock in under four minutes — the group’s own Roger Bannister).
Its sleeve further cementing the band’s apparent fascination with the circulatory and nervous systems, Widow’s Weeds also did something better than any Silversun Pickups release yet — encapsulate the sound that Aubert, Monninger, Lester and Guanlao make when they plug in together. On breezier numbers like the title track and “Don’t Know Yet,” Widow’s Weeds sports Silversun Pickups’ most melodic washes since Swoon. Meanwhile, harsher cuts such as “Neon Wound” and “Songbirds” get down and dirty in the undergrowth.
Somewhere between the flowers and the weeds. That’s where you’ll always find Silversun Pickups.
Bandbox is thrilled to offer not one, not two, but three exclusive pressings by Silversun Pickups! 2006's Carnavas (coke bottle clear/white), 2015's Better Nature (opaque yellow; its first time available on standalone colored vinyl) and 2019's Widow's Weeds (translucent red) on beautiful Bandbox-only colors. Each album comes with a career-spanning 16-page SSPU zine, featuring a track-by-track band commentary of Carnavas, an oral history of the band's early days, rare photos and more!