Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Silversun Pickups: Neck of The Woods (Review)

Packed with the Silversun Pickups’ signature guitar sounds, which oscillate from warm and enveloping to darkly sinister, their new album Neck of The Woods, which is designed to expand their sound slightly, ends up simply giving us more of the same instead. If you’re a Silversun Pickup fan though, then this is right up your alley. I must confess that I am a fan, not in the least because of their unflinching nostalgic ‘90s sound. It’s a sound that is reminiscent of the band they are most oft compared to, The Smashing Pumpkins (another of my ‘90s favorites), but is unique enough to be their own. Produced by Jacknife Lee (U2, REM, Weezer), Neck of The Woods has a tighter and louder sound than both Carnavas and Swoon and dabbles in electronic beats and synths here and there, but the fuzzy, and at times pretty hard hitting, guitar work is still front and center, as it should be on a Silversun Pickups album.

It’s the Pickups' loyalty to the axe (of the type that defined Generation aXe) that makes them most endearing to their multigenerational fans. The ‘90s were all about raw, loud, and at its best, experimental guitar playing and sounds. The Pickups (along with The Joy Formidable) proudly keep alive the sound of their progenitors My Bloody Valentine, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. In the process, The Pickups end up sounding like those bands in the sense that not many of The Pickups' contemporaries sound like them, just like not many of The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Pumpkins, and My Bloody Valentine's contemporaries sounded like them. I’m all for ‘90s revivalism, especially when "'90s revivalism" has sadly become synonymous with creative.

Unlike both Carnavas and Swoon, which both had their spooky moments, Neck of The Woods, from its creepy cover image of what could easily be a house of childhood horrors, to the album’s first single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” is drenched in psychological dread. This dread is not the kind of supernatural, Friday the 13th type, but rather the all too real childhood horrors (which are never directly addressed per se, but linger in the background) like abuse, poverty, and the like that can haunt one into adulthood. Lead singer/guitarist Brian Aubert elaborates upon this in the short promotional video the band made in support of “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings):”

The other songs on the album, from the powerful and alarum blaring opener “Skin Graph” to the New Wave background structures of the surprisingly hard and heavy “The Pit,” childhood fears and urban legends like Bloody Mary and night terrors allegorically serve as the psychological backdrop in which the band ambiguously addresses the things that affect our young, and internal, psyches. The opening arpeggiato guitar notes of “Busy Bees” builds the song’s sonic tension to a near fever pitch until it cascades into a repeated, succulently distorted, and almost sampled sounding full chord. “Busy Bees” serves as an example, in and of itself, of the album's flirtatious back and forth play between those aforementioned urban legends and night terrors and some truly uplifting and transcendent sonic atmosphere.

Neck of The Woods, while frightening at times, is at its heart a hopeful album. Aubert might feel that “all I think about is why/the skin I’m in feels ordinary” like all kids on the cusp of adulthood do, but the “one chance to move you” (the “you” most likely being his allegorical first love or lover), might be a bit nerve-wracking in its build up, but the results, like so many of life’s firsts, can fill one with hope for the future. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

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