The Silversun Pickups’ guitar-driven rock — recalling The Pixies and every grunge band that ripped off their sound — has landed the Los Angeles-based quartet on a bevy of “next-big-thing” lists and earned them raves for their first full-length album “Carnavas.”
But as the Pickups trekked from Phoenix to a gig in Austin, bassist/vocalist Nikki Monninger was less concerned with the buzz than she was with the Baba Booey.
“What about Howard?” she asked, while chronicling the virtues of the Sirius Satellite Radio system the band was heading to a big box electronics store to purchase.
An admitted Howard Stern fan, Monninger was thrilled to hear the King of All Media had begun tapping into his considerable show archives on his SatRad program. “We’re going to be in heaven in about a half hour,” she said with a laugh.
Like every shock jock is ultimately contrasted with Stern, not a review goes by without the Silversun Pickups earning a comparison with The Smashing Pumpkins. Like Rolling Stone magazine, which rewarded “Carnavas” with three-and-a-half stars and the track “Well Thought Out Twinkles” with this evaluation: “[It’s] a surge of guitar squalls and male-female vocals that sounds like what might have happened if the Smashing Pumpkins had driven their ice cream cart out West.”
To be fair, the Pickups are practically begging for the comparison: from lead singer Brian Aubert’s androgynous snarl to the soft-to-loud tone shifts to the female bassist singing harmonies, the only things separating “Carnavas” from early Pumpkins are some impenetrable pretentious lyrics and an Asian guy playing guitar.
Monninger enjoys the fact that when the rock journalists bring up Billy Corgan’s band, they always mention “early” Pumpkins when writing about the Pickups, who visit IOTA Club, 2832 Wilson Blvd., on Tuesday, Oct. 10 for an 8:30 p.m. show headlined by Viva Voce.
“It’s flattering,” she said. “I don’t see too many bands that were compared to them, and they were a great band. But we never set out to sound like them.”
WHAT MAKES “CARNAVAS” more than just another potential grunge revival album is its scope: the Pickups use an aural palette to convey emotions other current bands need to shred their throats to convey. Witness the simple chord work at the start of “Common Reactor,” or the tidal waves of buzzing guitars that slither around the climax of “Future Foe Scenarios,” or the way keyboardist Joe Lester and Monninger’s background vocals turn the sprawling “Dream at Tempo 119” into a sonic nightmare.
Aubert, Monninger, drummer Christopher Guanlao and Lester are as adept at creating dark, angst-ridden epics as they are breaking off heavy pop ditties like “Lazy Eye,” which sounds like a version of the Pumpkins’ “1979” (see, the comparisons are inevitable) with twice the urgency.
“I think ‘Lazy Eye’ is my favorite to play live,” said Monninger. “It definitely gets a lot louder and grander. We can try and play around with it.”
Monninger is happy to play around — but she hasn’t quit her day job yet.
Truth be told, she kind of likes it: when she’s not touring with the Silversun Pickups, she works for Rhino DVD, those pop culture archivists who release collections of everything from “Laugh-In” to “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Will she ever measure the band’s success with the ability to end her day-time employment?
“If that could ever happen, then sure,” she said. “But I really like working there, and they’re being as accommodating as possible.”