Silver Sunshine
Silver Sunshine

Empyrean
2004
B-



ilver Sunshine are absolutely the most derivative band I’ve heard in a while. I intend this as a compliment, and I imagine that the band would take it as such. Their sound of music derives, not to put too fine a point on it, from the British Isles and the period of c. 1967-68. They got it from there to here, I would speculate, with the aid of numerous vinyl recordings (used as points of reference) and various pieces of artificial recording technology, or else conscientiously employed digital facsimiles thereof. (Use of other, period-appropriate, means to relax the perceptual strictures of time and space may or may not be implied.) The aural verisimilitude of their debut suggests that Silver Sunshine conduct this procedure with an extraordinary amount of care, or else that they’re just uncannily talented in this particular direction. Either way, they are very good at it, and deserve commendation for a job well done.

I’m all for bands that up and make it clear what they intend to do, and then do it. Indeed, my imprecise distate for a majority of the music labelled “psychedelic” comes from the genre’s seeming aversion to precise, conspicuous, tangible, er, distinct, hm, thingyness…um. I’ve found it frustrating to even define satisfactorily [“well, it means that something’s got an organ in it”?], but in any case it tends to work best as hyphenated flavoring, rather than the central concern. I’m content, then, that Silver Sunshine attend dutifully to both sides of psych-pop equation, leaning toward the latter if anything. The psych- comes by way of sonic ingredients—harpsichords, harmonia, flanges and warbles and backwardnesses, plus galooshes of effect-drenched geetars and flittering, sunburnished vocals (and the occasional cuckoo clock)—appended to upright, dependable pop structures.

You get what this sounds like, right? One could conduct an exhaustive (/-ing) survey attempting to pinpoint the precise influences I mightn’t be surprised to learn Silver Sunshine’d had in mind for various points in various songs (durn freakbeat freaks)—I could probably make a decent hash of it after a few hours with Nuggets II and a notebook. But it’s probably not worth it. This is eminently recognizable sound, and one that’s been mimicked countless times before (notably, and with rather a trifle more panache, by top-notch XTC subterfuge the Dukes of Stratosphear.) Though it’s usually an insubstantially glib comparison (and often an offensively caricaturing one), I shouldn’t hesitate too much to invoke the Beatles, who are after all to blame for most of what ensues here, though they rarely indulged in it so uncomplicatedly.

This sort of record is a difficult one to discuss in terms of value. How highly can we praise what, at root, is a very nicely executed imitation? Surely it offers the listener much pleasantness (and better, almost, no nasty surprises.) I suspect that a Silver Sunshine live show is a much more exciting experience than a headphone session with your favorite dead-and-gone “authentic” psych-pop purveyors—at very least, a differently worthwhile sort of experience. Still, hard to say more than ‘it is what it is if you want what it is.’

Silver Sunshine are uninterested in dispelling the sense that this kind of music is a historical artifact, dead but for retro/novelty nostalgia. (That’s a myth, by the way, refuted by records like Of Montreal’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, a contemporary psych-pop masterpiece that’s vital and inspired where Silver Sunshine is simply skillful, because it truly internalizes its influences and synthesizes them into something new and unexpectedly affecting.) Nor do they make a discernable attempt at developing the sort of distinctiveness that might elevate this beyond a rule-that-proves-the-exception genre exercise. They squander their best opportunity to evince a personality—the two mellower pieces (lullaby-like “Nightmares” and country-flected “If I had the time”) at the album’s midpoint—with pretty but pedestrian songwriting and lyrics I still don’t really notice despite the more prominently mixed vocals.

The group earns style points for invoking their own (otherwise, er, fittingly bland) moniker in a number of these ditties (references to the “silver sunset,” etc.), most notably in the signature number and plausible single “I see the silver sunshine.” Probably their most creditable attribute is their unswerving, infectious confidence, a palpable assuredness in their sound that helps them sidestep the genre’s inherent risk of twee-ness. Thanks in no small part to modern mastering technology, authoritative opener “Velvet Skies” thunders in on a brawny “Tomorrow Never Knows”/”Let Forever Be” beat and a guitar squall more muscular than could really be historically accurate. Starting things off on an unmistakable high note, this is the record’s defining moment—it may not all be this deliciously immediate, but from this point on, the listener knows exactly what to expect.



Reviewed by: K. Ross Hoffman

Reviewed on: 2005-01-21

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