Silversun Pickups, “Swoon” (Dangerbird)
With the arrival of “Swoon,” the Silversun Pickups’ second full-length CD, it’s finally time we say it. The SSPU are one of the great new bands of this decade. The L.A. band’s 2005 debut EP, “Pikul,” was stronger than most debut full-lengths. The group’s 2006 debut full-length was stronger and more dynamic than any debut record should be. Fans and critics wondered what would come of the band, but with this month’s release of “Swoon,” it’s fair to say that Silversun Pickups are the real thing.
“Swoon” is an intoxicating wealth of melody, atmosphere and vision. The SSPU are loved for their driving, guitar-driven alt-rock nuggets, and this record has plenty of them, including the angular “Substitution,” the digging “It’s Nice to Know You Work Alone,” the story-centric “Catch & Release” and the vibrant “There’s No Secrets This Year.” That doesn’t even include the jam of a single, “Panic Switch,” which is already going strong on rock radio.
The SSPU sometimes misstep. “Draining” is unnecessary, and it’s something of a downer that “Swoon” only includes 10 songs. But those are small complaints for such a strong record. – Ricardo Baca
Maria Bamford, “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome” (Comedy Central)
Maria Bamford does not possess the relaxed voice or bald confidence of many comedians, nor does she go out of her way to set her audiences at ease. And that may just be what makes her so irresistible.
The L.A.-based stand-up is a jittery live wire, buzzing through routines on her family, love life and mental health with the efficiency of a rubber-legged, 1930s cartoon character. But Bamford is also relatable and warm, not simply a caricature of a freaked-out woman.
Bamford has lately been noted for her TV voice-overs and appearances with Patton Oswalt’s groundbreaking “Comedians of Comedy” tour. “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome” proves that cameos only hint at her talent. A full CD is the best way to appreciate the Bammer.
“Unwanted Thoughts” is a bit gentler than 2006’s “How to Win,” Bamford growing more comfortable in her many voices. We’re still treated to stories about leaving matter-of-fact messages on her parents’ answering machine as the baby Jesus (in an insane voice), her mocking of self-improvement techniques (“Vision Board”) and — as a bonus — all the episodes of her achingly funny Web series, “The Maria Bamford Show,” on an included DVD. – John Wenzel
Obits, “I Blame You” (Sub Pop)
Congrats to Obits on their debut record. In the rock ‘n’ roll handbook, album numero uno is a scratchy, loveable critter, wrought with vinegar and the occasional adolescent fudge. The rawness of a brand-new band shows through, pink and hot. Deftly side-stepping these rules are Rick Froberg and Sohrab Habibion, whose stints in Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, Pitchfork and Edsel have left them well-traveled.
“I Blame You” is an ear-friendly, crisply produced 42 minutes, and not nearly as spooky as the band’s moniker suggests. It is the soundtrack of an invincibility vacuum, with distinct dudely stubble growing under its arms. In its construction, the album is backdropped by basic grab-n-go rock, reinforced by less obvious little moments: the downstairs jog of the guitar on “Two-Headed Coin,” the brash entrance of the chorus on “Run,” the warm and sandy intro on “Fake Kinkade.” Froberg’s voice, in a starring role, blazes brightly through each track — the exception, of course, being “Run,” where Habibion takes the reins for a while.
Truth be told, there’s very little funny business involved. The record keeps a strict regimen of gritty lyrics and driven rhythms, and in doing so very rarely forays into anything particularly new. Nevertheless, the sound is a welcome update on old favorites, and it easily maintains its coltish energy from start to finish. Even the intermission burns brightly — instrumental title track “I Blame You” sits square in the middle, eyeing the sing-alongs on either side.
As an entity, the album is a solid and adept display of fine musicianship. The reverb drips into big, chilly sonic puddles; the drums charge on full-steam at all times; and some of the riffs growl and snarl so effectively that the hair on your arms begins to stand up. However, those looking for a textural challenge will have to go elsewhere; this record is walks an intensely pleasurable straight and narrow. – Alex Edgeworth
Various Artists, “Oh Happy Day” (EMI Gospel)
Rolling along at the speed of a lazy Sunday morning, “Oh Happy Day” is a treat of a gospel compilation that pairs celebrated gospel choirs with contemporary pop artists. The idea is strong, and the execution is even stronger as some of these voices seem like they were meant to pay tribute to this distinctively American art form.
It helps that some of these voices belong to Al Green, Aaron Neville and Joss Stone. Jon Bon Jovi? Sure, him too!
Green’s down-tempo take on “People Get Ready” has him paired with Heather Headley, and the contemporary arrangement is a triumph and the delivery expectedly lovely. Stone and Buick Audra close the disc with a delightfully lo-fi “This Little Light of Mine,” and it’s the most charming song on the disc.
Jon Bon Jovi is backed by the Washington Youth Choir on “Keep the Faith,” and the song’s gleeful spirit overcomes the cheese factor of the artist’s ’80s-rock growl. – Ricardo Baca
Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post. He is also the executive director of the Underground Music Showcase, Colorado’s premier festival of local music. Follow his whimsies at Twitter, his live music habit at Gigbot and his iTunes addictions at Last.fm.
John Wenzel is the co-editor of Reverb and an arts and entertainment writer for The Denver Post. He recently published the book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” and edits the Get Real Denver blog.
Alex Edgeworth is a Denver freelance writer and regular Reverb contributor.