Silversun Pickups

Neck Of The Woods

Written by: TL on 17/05/2012 12:45:21

I never got into Silversun Pickups till this past winter, and seeing as this is hence my first Rockfreaks review of the band - despite them having been around since 2002 - an introduction of sorts might hence be in order. The band which is often abbreviated as SSPU are a quartet from Los Angeles, comprised of singer/guitarist Brian Aubert, bassist/backing vocalist Nikki Monninger, drummer Chris Gunlao and keyboards/electronics man Joe Lester and the chief reason they're worth your attention is that they hardly sound like any other band you might have listened to. The best way to imagine their sound I think would be to imagine Smashing Pumpkins, only replacing Billy Corgan's vocals with a Aubert's highly characteristic voice, which sounds quite a bit like the hazy, almost child-like singing of guys like Mat Devine (Kill Hannah) and Claudio Sanchez (Coheed & Cambria).

That thought experiment only gets you halfway there though, as where the 'Pumpkins' atmosphere is bitter, decadent, nightmare-ish and in your face, the 'Pickups sound slightly smoother, more restrained, like they're keeping their emotional content reserved sort of in the back of their soundscapes. Whether this description hits home or not, the point is they sound unique. So unique in fact that I found out about them hearing their hit song "Lazy Eye" playing on a car stereo in the background of a Criminal Minds episode, immediately getting distracted from the show and thinking "I've got to find out what that is".

"Neck Of The Woods" is the band's third LP, following 2006's "Carnavas" and 2009's "Swoon", and while the core constituents of SSPU's sound are still very much the same, you can hear that this is their least fuzzy production so far, foregoing the intentional imperfections of the past and going for a colder, more crystalline sound compared to the warmer, more powerful approach of "Swoon" for instance. The instrumentation is all out minimalistic in several verses, and while SSPU are still their more noisy, guitar-dubbed selves when choruses come around, it's clear that the expression here is to be carried by a cool sound and a thoughtful refrain rather than particularly ear-opening dynamics.

For me though, this approach is - cynically speaking - not efficient enough, and I eventually have to admit that I've found "Neck Of The Woods" to be the band's least appealing album so far. The highlights, lead single "Bloody Mary (Never Ending)" and later "Mean Spirits", are pretty cool songs in their own right, but they pale slightly when compared to standouts from previous albums - "Future Foe Scenarios", "Panic Switch", "There's No Secrets This Year" and "Substitution" to name a few - as does the overall material surrounding them compared to the overall material making up the prior releases. Listening through "Neck Of The Woods" you too often get the initial recognition that SSPU have a damn cool sound going, and then the tracks don't quite bloom and deliver the punch that would give you strong indivual impressions of them.

Still, if you don't mind putting in the time and effort, "Neck Of The Woods" is still a rewarding listen, even if for no other reason, then because there are pretty much no other releases coming out sounding close to what it sounds like. SSPU drag 90's elements into modern relevancy like few others, and even when they're most long-winded and hardest to appreciate they're still worth a listen. All I'm saying is that if you're only just getting into them now, it's better to label "Neck Of The Wood" as a more experimental album for them, and go treat yourself to the immediacy of "Carnavas" and "Swoon" before pursuing Silversun Pickups out the tangents explored on here.


Download: Bloody Mary (Never Ending), Mean Spirits, The Pit
For The Fans Of: The Smashing Pumpkins, Placebo, Kill Hannah, Claudio Sanchez

Release Date 08.05.2012

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