Shiny Toy Guns
We Are Pilots
emember when the Killers were a glitter synth-rock band from Mormon country who promised us the resurrection of new wave glam (as if it had ever been in danger of extinction)? Yes, there was a brief moment when Hot Fuss took hold of susceptible youth too young to remember Simon LeBon and those who knew better, but desperately wanted to believe that this decade’s Rio had arrived. I never fit into either category. I coveted every Vidal Sassoon-slicked strand of LeBon’s head and could never compare “Save a Prayer” to “Smile Like You Mean It.”
Los Angeles synth-rockers, Shiny Toy Guns are a shoddy facsimile of the Killers. They prey upon our obsession with nostalgia, but only provide us with the faintest traces of ‘80s revival hysteria: the obligatory abuse of the synthesizer; a trade-off of male and female vocals a la the Human League; and lyrical allusions to robots, indulgent self-alienation/mutilation, and gloomy “Mondays.”
Yet, they know what they do isn’t that original, if not a totally spurious undertaking. They liberally borrow from the ‘80s new wave catalogue (New Order, Yaz, Depeche Mode, and of course, Duran Duran), incorporate electroclash detritus, and then sugarcoat their overproduced rehash with maudlin emo vocals and a generic modern rock feel. Shiny Toy Guns named themselves after glossy, innocuous devices that market themselves as posing a real threat. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
The songs don’t offend. Then again, they don’t do much of anything. “You Are the One” is anthemic synthpop that starts off favorably with serpentine, moody synths that twist and turn as a drum machine propels the menace forward, but then it recoils into a limp and effete rock chorus. Chad Petree’s vocals are a considerable point of annoyance. He doesn’t sing; he emotes in a near falsetto that’s so overblown it can’t help but seem insincere. Although the songs are rife with ostensible wintry melancholy, dangerous sexuality, and bitter lament, their wimpy core, too often, wins out.
On the band’s latest single, “Le Disko,” female vocalist Carah Faye Charnow does a PG Peaches imitation that makes one blush with shame at her rather prudish performance. Instead of liberating us with dirty talk, Charnow speaks in abstruse, ridiculous imagery that I presume to be some sort of reference to the imagined future: “Silver shadow believer / Spock rocker with your dirty eyes.”
Yet, when Charnow pairs her voice with Petree’s on “Don’t Cry Out,” I can’t help but love the results. The intro of mournful chimes intermingles with synths that mimic the desperate urgency of the duo’s voices and then its full blastoff into a chorus that literally has Charnow count down as it reaches its peak of ethereal sadness. The same can be said of “Starts with One.” In its subtle melodrama and epic sound, you can feel something. The churning guitars and whirling synth loops sweep the listener pleasantly along on a romantic journey that doesn’t seem hackneyed or contrived.
I hope that beneath their hard and polished veneer, Shiny Toy Guns are real, messy, and dirty: all those things they pretend to be. What can be said for those Killers (ca. Hot Fuss) is that they bring new blood to their seized material. They are never so aloof that you can’t feel a heart beating through their electronic designs, even if that heart happens to be deceitful. We Are Pilots is cold and lifeless: a synth rock tundra that makes me wish I were down in warm and vibrant “Rio.”
Reviewed by: Jillian Crowther
Reviewed on: 2007-02-09