SHINY TOY Guns have been an eristic rock group since their inception in 2002. Their debut, We Are Pilots, was recorded and released; re-recorded and re-released; and re-re-recorded and re-re-released in a span of two years under the banners of three separate labels. The version released on their current label, Universal, ultimately garnered the most praise and a Grammy nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album.
The Grammy nod was something of confusing misnomer, as they lost to the Chemical Brothers, and their purview is anything but elecronic/dance. It was a blunder not unheard of in the annals of Grammy malfeasance (see: Metallica v. Jethro Tull), and since then, Shiny Toy Guns have replaced singer Carah Faye Charnow (who had previously replaced original singer Ursula Vari) for new co-lead singer Sisely Treasure (a 2007 finalist on Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search For the Next Doll). She now shares call-and-answer duties with the male lead, Gregori Chad Petree. All of that to say: distracting history and pedigree notwithstanding, Shiny Toy Guns forge ahead on their sophomore effort, Sea of Poison, a dramatic cacophony of studio-finessed eclecticism.
The opening song, “When Did the Storm Begin” starts with a minute-long plethora of instrumentation and found sound bites mashed with electronic blips and bops, and then suddenly focuses with laser precision into a pleading “Call my name/Answer me where I stand” refrain by Petree that becomes more desperate as Treasure’s kinetic verses tell a story of domestic abuse and escape. The song is epic in scope and construction, composed of longstanding guitar power chords, backed by a mourning synth that sweeps the chorus into quickly-screamed verses. It’s actually somewhat reminiscent of Evanescence, though Treasure can’t sing like Amy Lee. I initially lacked interest, but repeat listens reveal how the track sets the table for a raucous album on which the Guns once again go about breaking their own mold.
From there, Poison veers into disparate dimensions of influence, all the while placating the band’s taste for sweeping and grandiose choruses with that same power chord/synth pairing that works so hard to convince your ear of the lyrics’ gravity. It’s an ambitious clash of influences: “Money for That” sounds like Creed with an Orange County vibe; “I Owe You a Love Song” sounds like a Buggles remake, complete with a key change in the last bars; “Ghost Town” sounds of Linkin Park featuring Toni Basil; and “Ricochet” is a bit of Marilyn Manson for good measure. And as if that weren’t enough of a mixture, the last half of the album is almost like a new-wave Styx concert. The convergence of past and present inspirations is surprisingly refreshing, though there is the nagging need to listen to this album over again, just to make sure you heard what you thought you heard.
Sea of Poison is all at once hard and soft, upbeat and dire. Its radio-friendly pop belies its serious, but hackneyed, lyricism—a feature one might find on a teenaged melodrama. It tries very hard to let you know that Treasure et al aren’t just the displaced runners-up of 2007. This album doesn’t make an aggressive statement so much as it passively suggests that perhaps Shiny Toy Guns are more than the Best Electronic/Dance nominees. Even so, but making their new thing into a cohesive musical organism will take a bit more time.
Nicholas James McDowell is a copywriter in New York.
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