Turning inward on their fifth full-length, Los Angeles four-piece Silversun Pickups shifts away from the pulsing synths and thrills of their previous effort, amplifying the drama and tension with the moody Widow's Weeds. While not as immediate as their prior few albums, the introspective set maintains the band's focus on melodic hooks and swelling, orchestral layers, which serve to buffer their ever-potent brand of alternative rock. Joined by producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage), the group -- vocalist/guitarist Brian Aubert, bassist Nikki Monninger, drummer Christopher Guanlao, and keyboardist Joe Lester -- delivers a tight attack for these distressed and mournful songs, supercharging buzzy riffs and pounding percussion to drive Aubert's pained lyrics deep into the core. Thematically centered on his journey to sobriety, Widow's Weeds -- named after the black clothes worn by women in mourning -- is a heavy listen and often dwells in dark places. However, the main takeaway is change, healing, and the future. So while fear, self-doubt, and desperation creep menacingly throughout, Aubert (backed, as always, by Monninger's heavenly harmonies) pulls himself from the mire, declaring "we've finally made it out alive" and "I'll keep on fighting/As long as you keep trying." The struggle is present on the urgent "Neon Wounds" and the intense rager "Songbirds," while hope is offered with the grand, poetic title track. Album standout "It Doesn't Matter Why" is a driving, anxiety-packed highlight, riding an Arcade Fire-esque urgency into the ranks as one of best songs in their catalog. Elsewhere, the potent string duo of Paul Cartwright and Matt Booker adds appropriate heft to a quartet of the album's most sweeping tracks, such as "Straw Man," which swells to life with elegant beauty before the veneer crashes away with a full-band assault reminiscent of the most hardened Garbage songs. On "Don't Know Yet," Aubert sings, "I need a fresh start now/Reboot the machine." With Widow's Weeds, the band hasn't necessarily reinvented their wheel, but there's a deep sense of change and growth, both in personal perspective and potential direction. While it takes time for the album to really sink in, it ends up being one of Silversun Pickups' most emotionally satisfying and cathartic listens.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung