Wednesday, September 16, 2009

#106. 'Everyone can focus clearly with such shine'

Silversun Pickups
"Lazy Eye"

In the time I've spent chart-watching the last few years there have been few moments that stand out as particularly 'hell yeah!' worthy. A 'hell yeah!' moment doesn't just mean that a song I like is getting popular, there's too many of those to make it all that special anymore, but the rare moment that seems to indicate a change in what is considered 'pop' music, or if you're looking at niche charts what can become popular in those specific formats. Any time truly singular track makes a bid for chart supremacy it gives me that good feeling, the one where you can overlook the fact that Black Eyed Peas are the most popular band in America and 3OH!3 are not part of an elaborate joke because there's something like "Day 'n' Nite" within sniffing distance of being the most popular song in the country. The feeling is fleeting, but for that little bit of time you hate the state of pop music a little less, and it feels damn good.

I'll get to talk about more of those moments as we move up the list, but the most recent one to get my blood pumping was when Silversun Pickups' "Panic Switch"hit #1 on the Modern Rock/Alternative Rock charts earlier this year. Here was a song that was the antithesis of anything else on the chart, hearkening back to the likes of Hum and Smashing Pumpkins as opposed to being nth generation alt-metal copyists or slightly harder U2 wannabes. Seeing that it could catch on in the same format that let Foo Fighters all but own the poll position for a full year between the first three singles of their last album gave me that little twinge of hope.

If I'd been chart-watching back in late 2007 when "Lazy Eye" managed a top 5 placement out of nowhere I think that twinge might have been greater. The fact that it's the better song hasn't got as much to do with that thought, but it's the fact that its success was literally out of nowhere. There was no previous singles that made anything close to a splash in those waters, no similar bands priming listeners for the burst of noisy, textured alt-rock the likes of which hasn't been remotely popular since 1995. It was the rare example of a song that managed to find success because it was a good song, and no matter how far outside the normal confines of the radio format it fell it couldn't be denied. It's one of the few true breakout rock singles of the decade, and one of the better breakout singles of the decade regardless of genre.

I think that a big part of what helped its ascent was how simple and relatable the lyrics were. It's another example of a song that chronicles a moment that a lot of its listeners will have been through, namely the botching of an ideal moment to make a move on that girl/guy you've liked for a while. Lead singer Brian Aubert starts the song off with the best summation of those feelings when he says 'I've been waiting for this moment all my life/but it's not quite right'. The rest of the song basically elaborates on that point, spelling out just how badly the moment was fucked up, but the sentiment is there in that first verse and it's an undeniable hook. Aubert's voice is just right for the situation too, especially when he lets go vocally in the middle of the song. His normal tone recalls Jimmy James of My Morning Jacket with a bit more of a nasal thing going on, but when he gets cathartic he loses the warmth of that voice and sounds genuinely menacing. He only goes there for a few lines, but hos performance in that brief section makes as much of an impression as that first line does.

Really though, what made "Lazy Eye" stand out was the way Aubert's guitar was treated. The riffs themselves weren't anything too amazing, but the guitar tone for the verses was just exquisite: clean, precise and oddly scratchy when Aubert got into faster sections. When the little leads popped up they had just the slightest buzz to them, not overpoweringly distorted but just enough to stand out against the cleaner main guitar line. Then, when the song went into overdrive the guitar sound got absolutely massive. It still sounded absolutely fantastic, heavy on the lows and highs but not empty in any way. When I made the reference to hum earlier on it was this sort of thing that I was referring to, the knowledge of how to treat the guitar in different contexts for maximum effects. This isn't on their level, but it's still one of the most undeniably well produced guitar sounds to make it into heavy rotation on rock radio recently.

Coming up tomorrow: The king of reinterpretations takes on a true classic.

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