Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Silversun Pickups' Neck Of The Woods

Looking back at the release of the single Seasick, it's almost remarkable that all three songs were unreleased leftovers from Swoon. They could have filled out and fit on the Silversun Pickups new album, formerly called 3.

Everything unsettling about Seasick is alive and well on the Silversun Pickups' new album, Neck Of The Woods. Even some of the smoothness that once defined their sound has been roughed up and made even more interesting with the darker sound that Brian Aubert has likened to a horror show.

Change ups are commonplace throughout, Lester's keys are sometimes de-emphasized, and Aubert's guitar distorts seem to be served up more as punctuation marks. The music clearly relies much more on bass lines and percussion. And all of it makes their third album unique, blotting out a bit of the band's sunnier disposition.

Neck Of The Woods delves deeper in the dark where wild things are.

The album isn't just darker but centers on those minor traumas everyone experienced as kids. That doesn't mean big things, but rather the bumps, bruises, and mental knee scrapes that everybody gets along the way. Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings) is a great example of what the band means.

"It started out as a real straightforward poppy song," says Joe Lester (keys). "It got deconstructed when we were in the studio with Jacknife [Lee]."

The song was turned into a spine tingler, conjuring up memories of spooky childhood games like Bloody Mary. It is the kind of stuff that most people remember. But it also makes you wonder how much of it floats around in our subconscious without the prompt.

Many of the songs carry the concept even further. Skin Graph, in particular, intends to create suspense, something Aubert has linked to cinematic manifestations of dread as experienced in movies like The Shining or Let The Right One In. Its slow start sets up this feeling and then foreshadows an album with plenty of unexpectedness.

You never know where the Silversun Pickups are going with any song.

Make Believe and The Pit touch on the same chords in terms of concept. They both angle at the idea that we can never out run or rise above our pasts. Make Believe does it with a bluesy and spooky undercurrent. The Pit does it by opening with a distinct and straightforward beat before it's buried as a darker chorus fills in all those things we are told to watch out for as kids.

But these first four songs mentioned don't even begin to scratch the surface of what there is to look forward to on Neck Of The Woods. If you read any reviews that downgrade this album, chalk it up to the band's decision to surrender some of that catchiness for something with more weight behind it. As an album, Neck Of The Woods is great. There are no throwaways.

Gun-Shy Sunshine adds some addictive grungy guitar work and mile-deep synth tones; it explores those moments when we think we have it all figured out. Mean Spirits carries the big meaty synth riffs everyone wants to hear; it also brings a more aggressive rock sound to bear on the album.

Still, I think it will be Simmer that will become the song everyone will wish they said was their favorite in a few months. The best of it comes up after the build. The lyrics hit hard with disenchantment. It really alludes to the fact that this album was produced two minutes away from where Aubert was born.

Otherwise, if there is anything to be missed beyond more guitar (and I'm not saying there is), it might be hearing more vocal work from Nikki Monninger (bass). Her contributions are most apparent on Dots And Dashes (Enough Already), making it twice as sharp than her backing alone.

But aside from that, this album truly showcases Christopher Guanlao on drums. There is a crispness to every beat as his sticks hits the skins. You can hear everything. Aubert too. He really stands out as a vocalist on this album, with more variation in his voice than any other album. It works because the music is equally varied.

Neck Of The Woods By Silversun Pickups Spooks 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The best thing about Neck Of The Woods as an album is that it gets better and better with each listen. As your ears settle into everything you just heard, something new will grab your attention on the very next pass. The band can likely thank Jacknife Lee for this beautiful illusion. Many of the arrangements are woven together in layers, dropping back and being brought up throughout. Smartly played.

Neck Of The Woods by Silversun Pickups is available on iTunes. Neck Of The Woods is also available on Amazon. Barnes & Noble is carrying the double LP. The band kicked off its tour on Jimmy Kimmel Live last night. They'll play San Francisco tonight.
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