Album ReviewsHot

Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

on May 11, 2012, 8:00am
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Silversun Pickups frontman Brian Aubert has compared the band’s latest album, Neck of the Woods, to a horror movie. The record’s atmosphere is certainly dark and moody, even if that’s not necessarily new ground for the group, and Aubert and Co. show a new found fascination with ghost stories and the frailty of the human body, making it the lyrical equivalent of an early film by David Cronenberg or John Carpenter. In fact, if the trilogy of Carnavas, Swoon, and Neck of the Woods made up the first three films of a slasher franchise, it could easily be Carpenter’s original Halloween series.

Carnavas ebbed and flowed between restraint and chaos a la Michael Myers, stalking the listener with Nikki Monninger’s brooding bass in songs like “Three Seed” before murdering their eardrums with the shoegaze distortion of “Common Reactor.”  Sophomore effort Swoon, or Halloween II, was more muscular (if not quite as flawless) than its predecessor. With the cataclysmic fuzz amplified and the production bolstered by dramatic strings, the tunes were louder, faster, and more violent. At times it was messy, but nonetheless enjoyable.

In an attempt to draw in new viewers while still retaining the Halloween title, the script for Halloween III: Season of the Witch eschewed any mention of Michael Myers and opted instead for a crackpot story that involved druids, robots, and exploding masks. The sci-fi/horror fusion didn’t work, as things never veered far enough in either direction to make a coherent product. Neck of the Woods takes a similar middle of the road approach, and as a result, the Pickups sound oddly de-fanged.

Most songs begin quietly, with Aubert plucking lonely, cavernous notes over one of Joe Lester’s celestial keyboard riffs or a drum loop from Chris Guanlao. Over five to seven minutes (even their best work has always felt bloated), things gradually shift into a white noise that’s never quite as loud or cathartic as the band’s earlier songs. It’s as if the group wanted to branch into more introspective territory with each track, then quickly launched into a pale imitation of themselves when all else failed. “Make Believe”, “Busy Bees”, “Simmer”, “Out of Breath”, and the watered down Joy Division cut “The Pit” all take this approach: A structure of constant, predictable crescendo.

The most successful tracks see the band trying something either completely new or simply sticking to their 90s alt-rock guns. First single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” uses a synthesized dreamscape as an anchor rather than an afterthought, cycloning during the intro before dropping out to showcase Aubert’s androgynous wail. The keyboards morph throughout the rest of the song to display a keen sense of pop-oriented peaks and valleys instead of just building and building to nothing.

“Gun-Shy Sunshine” shows similar variance as it interweaves crunchy power cords with hissing loops and vintage organ rather than jarringly shifting back and forth. “Mean Spirits” is the only track to charge out of the barn already dripping with high-stakes distortion. Silversun Pickups have always been unfairly accused of aping The Smashing Pumpkins’ 90’s output, only embracing nostalgia instead of tip-toeing away from it might result in more toothier tracks like this. Like the best material on Carnavas, it conjures a white-knuckle chase scene that would find itself at home in any horror movie worth its salt.

Essential Tracks: “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”, “Gun-Shy Sunshine”, and “Mean Spirits”

Feature artwork by Dmitri Jackson.

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16 comments

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Oldguy
September 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm

I’m pretty damn old to be excited about new music. As a child of the ’60s I don’t find a lot to thrill me anymore but this band is different. And this album gets better with each play. I try not to overplay any artist but it doesn’t seem possible with SSPU

Lazy Eye
June 20, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Busy Bees will be epic live. Can’t wait to see them in Philly. Amazing band.

Swankystreet
June 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I feel this is the best album of their career. Ive been listening to it everyday and cant stop!

Critter
June 5, 2012 at 12:37 am

I am always afraid when one of my favourite “promising” bands releases a new album.  Woried that it won’t meet expectations, I guess.  I needn’t have. Great album.  So far I love it as much as Swoon if not more. Even more experimentation within their sound, rather than simply refining it, they have further expanded and developed. Mad scientists mixing sinister concoctions in the Laboratory of Feel and Sound. A masterpiece in both new and similar directions. Great work.       

JaYo
May 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I was actually extremely disappointed by Swoon when I first listened to it.  I ended up giving it a several more listens and I’m really glad I did, it is certainly one of my favorite cds.  So when I listened to Neck of the Woods for the first time I kept in mind that I would probably need several listens to sort out the new sounds.  Sure enough, several listens in and I am thrilled at the success of the new album.  Point is, if you are a SSPU fan and don’t quite get NotW yet, give it a few more listens, don’t miss out on the new material.

Daveaa43
May 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of SSPU’s “Neck of the Woods” and I’m completely THRILLED.  They have remained true, no major changes.  All songs are classic SSPU style and sound.  Mean Spirits totally rocks, Busy Bee is great but the best song of all is Dots and Dashes. I’m also convinced that all of the other tsspracks will grow on me big time just like all of their tunes on their previous albums.  If you are a big SSPU fan, you’ll love this CD!!

pwozz
May 14, 2012 at 5:13 am

Gotta love the SSPU. people can complain it doesnt sound good, but that is their secret. This album will take at least 10 to 15 listen throughs before shining with that eerie luster. These guys have it down, and though it is not in the ranks of their two previous albums yet, I know it will be soon.

Shane_foley
May 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Pound for pound it’s no Swoon, and it takes a while to hit its stride, but the climax of Simmer-The Pit-Dots and Dashes is vintage SSPU

Giorgos Vasileiadis
May 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

I love the whole album. Not sure which is my favorite, really like Busy Bees, Out of Breath, The Pit. Didn’t like so much “Here we Are” and “Gun-Shy Sunshine”.

Giorgos Vasileiadis
May 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

Loved the whole album. I don’t which is my favorite one. The two songs I DIDN’T like so much were “Here We are” and “Gun-Shy Sunshine” but they are still nice.

SSPco
May 12, 2012 at 1:37 am

 I’m with Mhaley069 – huge fan, but upon first listen I scratched my head.  From commuting back and forth this week and listening from A to Z – this is an awesome evolution of Silversun. The paranoia lyrics are still in place, you know yyou’re fighting against something. And the drums have never been tighter. I don’t think this is the honeymoon talking – it’s a solid freaking album, and one solid one to be played at my BBQs this summer.

Mhaley069
May 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I’ve been a huge fan for all 3 studio releases, so I had very high expectations for this release.  I’m  so taken by this band, something very special for me.  This highly anticipated release is perfect for me.  They take chances, a subtle change of direction, but at the end of the day, it’s fantastic.  Sure, it took me about 3 times through to “get it”, no release from any band hooks me the first run through.  I’m completely satisfied with their effort.  You’ll see me in the VIP section on their tour through Denver. 

4 out of 5 stars  ****

ghost that never lies…
May 11, 2012 at 11:49 am

if you listen to it from front to end (like me being stuck in rush hour traffic), it feels like a really solid story.  If you try to pick it track by track, it’s underwhelming at best.  There are definitely no big singles like “lazy eye”, “substitution”, or “royal we”, but pretty good album.  Definitely not a “break out” album everyone expected.  I would give 2 stars for singles, but 3 stars if you listen to it as a whole piece. 

Ntimbalck
May 11, 2012 at 10:12 am

my most anticipated albom of 2012 (outside of Minus the Bear’s yet to be titled release). I haven’t listened yet, but don’t imagine I’ll be as disappointed as the rest. 

Not diggin this at all
May 11, 2012 at 8:59 am

This album is a complete let down…

Daveaa43
May 16, 2012 at 11:05 pm

 I can’t imagine any SSPU fan not liking this album….this album may be their overall best from start to finish..but like many albums, one needs to listen to it frequently before it GETS YA!!

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