Silversun Pickups – Physical Thrills (Album Review)

Only its casual fans think that Alternative Rock died in the late ’90s. The initiated knows very well that the genre carried on into the ensuing decades, albeit has adopted a slightly different moniker, such as Indie Rock. In the 2000s, among its countless purveyors included The Killers, Muse, and of course, Silversun Pickups.

Formed in 2000, in Los Angeles, California, Silversun Pickups – Brian Aubert (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Nikki Monninger (bass, vocals), Chris Guanlao (drums, percussion, backing vocals), and Joe Lester (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals) – has six studio albums on its members’ sleeves. A career filled with highly charted positions and regular touring, their discography goes from 2006’s Carnavas to the latest, Butch Vig–produced Physical Thrills.

Released back on August 19, 2022, via New Machine Recordings, Physical Thrills is an introspective set of tracks that follow a laidback direction. A follow up to 2019’s Widow’s Weeds, the new album is complete with fourteen tracks which includes some interesting treats. It all starts with the folky, Shoegaze-glazed “Stillness (Way Beyond).” The ensuing “Sticks and Stones” is a sudden change of pace–pulsating, slightly syncopated. “Hereafter (Way After)” picks up the rhythm a bit, only to drop down again with the waltzy “Dream at Tempo 050.”

There are then more surprises with a launching into the grungy and metallic “Scared Together,” which exudes echoes of Nickelback when the Canadian band is being aggressive. Obviously a result of pandemic contemplation, “Alone on a Hill” is a slow, melodramatic ballad, sung by the band’s bassist, Monninger, marking the band’s first ever single with her on solo lead vocals. One of those surprising treats mentioned earlier, Monninger states that she was initially timid to do but eventually accomplished by channeling her Kate Bush influences. The next songs, “Hidden Moon” and “System Error,” are another whiff of Canadian breeze, but this time of the Progressive Rock sensibilities of Rush.

Moving along, “Empty Nest” is an album highlight, for its Synthpop elements – flickering, gyrating, apt for the neon-lit dance floor. Still in the groove territory, “We Won’t Come Out” and “Stay Down (Way Down)” are rather dark, eerie, and a tad funky- has traces of Bush, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins. Finally, Silversun Pickups delivers what may be regarded as the album’s heartrending highlight- the soulful, sophisticated ballad “Quicksand”- revealing a new, quite serious facet of the band.

It might have not yet achieved the stellar status of some of its contemporaries, Silversun Pickups, however, manages to maintain a steady and solid musical path of their own. Each album that it releases is definitely a powerhouse of engaging tracks. Physical Thrills continues this tradition. It is even a revelation, celebrating stylistic diversity, and that is why Cryptic Rock gives Physical Thrills 4 out of 5 stars.

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