May 10, 2012

Album Review: Silversun Pickups' Neck of the Woods

It must be getting old for Silversun Pickups to continue hearing how their music is the revivalistic derivative to the Smashing Pumpkins lineage of fuzzy '90s-era alt-rock, but at the very least, it's also helped feed their success. Had it not been for the Silverlake quartet's gazing "Lazy Eye" in 2007 that throws more than a few winks at the cool, mid-tempo whirring of Billy Corgan's "1979," they may have never been become one of those curious anomalies in today's music world that's equal parts mainstream radio staple and indie-centric. Three albums into their career, Silversun Pickups sound determined to shake off obvious comparisons with Neck of the Woods, a progressive effort that requires just as much of it from listeners.

Make no doubt about it, Silversun Pickups have always steered their starship toward accessibility since their breakthrough debut Carnavas and 2009's more expansive, interstellar listen Swoon. Neck of the Woods on the other hand maintains its kitschy universal appeal, but it also displays strides in depth with meticulous guitar riffs and carefully crafted chord progressions that brush away much of the nostalgic stardust overshadowing credit to their creativity. The end result finds them steady-footing onto deep-sinking terrain ("Skin Graph," "Here We Are [Chancer,]" "The Pit") and prickly climbers ("Make Believe," "Busy Bees,") escaping the common burn of glowing influences and secluding the quartet in an unsettling darkness instead. While remnants of the band's past tried and true formula reappear in tracks like the woozily atmospheric "Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)" or the sizzling afterburner "Mean Spirits," their impact on the LP is outweighed by the bolder steps being taken around them.

Silversun Pickups have ultimately evolved into something of a thinking man's rock band here on Neck of the Woods that pushes conventional boundaries of music made for the masses without vilifying pop pretensions or relying too heavily on revivalism as a crutch. Cutting edge and big-sounding alt-rock producer Jacknife Lee (R.E.M., Bloc Party) was probably the right choice for this task, as you'd be hard-pressed to find another person out there capable of reconciling SSPU's faux-indie equilibrium in the studio with ease. A lengthy listen that requires careful attention and a bit of homework on the SoCal quartet's prior releases in order to see the big picture, Neck of the Woods is a transitional album at best in which Silversun Pickups finally begin to inhabit their own sound.

Silversun Pickups' Neck of the Woods is available now on Dangerbird Records.

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