Millennial Masterpieces #15: Silversun Pickups – [Carnavas]

Welcome to Millennial Masterpieces, where I’ll look back at a great album released within the past 17 years and see what its legacy is. Fifteenth in the series is the moody, spectral debut from 2000s alternative staples Silversun Pickups, Carnavas.

Released: July 26, 2006

Silversun Pickups seemed destined for one-hit wonder status. Hit single “Lazy Eye” bore all the hallmarks of an anomaly, and after its reign on top of the modern rock charts in 2007 few expected to hear from the California quartet again. A decade later they’re one of the few alternative bands left from the 2000s who can still fill an arena, standing alongside Muse and Kings of Leon as reliable millennial touchstones.

Unlike those bands, Silversun hit the airwaves without a back catalogue. Aside from one EP, Carnavas was their sole record. It was as if they arrived on the scene not yet ready for the spotlight, fully content to thrive in the shadowy realm they constructed on this album. Carnavas was even weirder than “Lazy Eye” itself, filled mostly with long, meditative tracks that didn’t exactly scream “play me on the radio”. It’s an oddity that is simultaneously crammed with hooks and yet contains not a single conventionally structured pop song. It also struggled to find an audience upon release, too melodic for the shoegaze crowd and too spacey for the casual listener. The highbrow elite dismissed them as “Smashing Pumpkins in space”.

Those comparisons are inescapable; they’re also 100% valid. “Lazy Eye” is a winding, twisted extrapolation of “1979”. The album’s big meaty riffs are all cut from the same mountain as “Cherub Rock”. The initials of both bands are strangely similar. But Brian Aubert‘s breathy voice is less grating than Billy Corgan‘s perpetual whine, even if both sing almost entirely through their nasal cavity. It’s less grounded, complementing the dark, dreamlike state the band exists in on this album. Aubert is also far more lyrically cryptic- I couldn’t tell you what a single song on this album is actually about.

A state that, while not conducive to garnering mass appeal, is fully realized in its own way. Because as long as this record may be, it doesn’t have much in the way of filler. Each song builds upon Aubert’s knotty guitar, Nikki Monninger‘s loping bass, Chris Guanlao‘s complex rhythms, and perhaps most importantly, Joe Lester‘s celestial soundscapes. The elements all loop around in the ether, etching distinct sonic figures over the course of the songs’ extended run times. “Rusted Wheel” and “Common Reactor” are both six minutes long, and both deserve every one of those minutes to construct their respective universe. Everything has a purpose; this ain’t no jam band.

Not all the songs on Carnavas exist in its cover art netherworld, though most pay a visit at some point. The immediate “Well Thought Out Twinkles” does in fact contain a few of those twinkles before it returns to a skyward flurry of grunge riffs. “Dream at Tempo 119” pairs searing lead guitar with a buzzing synth that adds an edge to the urgent verses before dissolving into an ethereal pit of feedback and glitches. “Future Foe Scenarios” begins as a potentially straightforward radio rocker, then breaks down into an art-shattered dystopia. Some flip the formula, like “Lazy Eye” and “Waste it On”, which start in the dark before bursting into life in the last third.

The band would retain some of these characteristics for their follow-up Swoon, but by the time Neck of the Woods came around in 2012 they had become fully mainstream. While for some bands that would be a shame, here it’s fully understandable. It also leaves us with a magnificently odd debut that stands as one of the most underrated classics of the 2000s, a shadowy secret for fans to keep to themselves.

Top Three Tracks: “Rusted Wheel“,  “Waste It On“, “Dream at Tempo 119

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