Monday, October 1, 2012

Silversun Pickups - Neck Of The Woods

Silversun Pickups
Neck Of The Woods
Dangerbird Records/Warner Music Australia

There are plenty of acts on today’s music scene that have taken their lead from the popular alternative rock sound that dominated the better part of the ‘90’s, reworked it and presented their reinvented sound to a whole new generation of listeners. But while a few of these so called new alternative rock outfits have caught my attention, none have completely captivated quite in the way Los Angeles (California, U.S.) outfit Silversun Pickups have.
On the strength of a couple of songs I heard on the radio, I picked up their debut full-length effort ‘Carnavas’ (2006), and was impressed with what the band had to offer throughout. Needless to say, I was keen to hear the band’s sophomore effort, and duly purchased ‘Swoon’ (2009) as soon as it was released. I expected big things from the band with the album, and I wasn’t let down one bit.
It’s been another three year wait since ‘Swoon’ for something new from the band (If you excluded their three track E.P. ‘Seasick’ from 2011 that is). But after what seems to be a deliberate move not to hastily release anything before its ready, the four piece outfit (Comprising of lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Aubert, bassist/backing vocalist Nikki Monninger, keyboardist/sampler/sound manipulator Joe Lester and drummer Chris Guanlao) has returned with their all important third full-length release ‘Neck Of The Woods’.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with ‘Neck Of The Woods’ on first listen. The album was good, but the darker vibe of the songs and the lack of immediacy within the choruses was a stark contrast to the appealing aspects of the band’s former releases. But despite my initial impressions of the album, I persevered, and over time, I was eventually convinced of the band’s continually evolving sound and direction from album to album.
‘Skin Graph’ is the opener on the album, and the first to showcase the band’s unwillingness to go for the obvious, and make the audience work a little at digging beneath the song’s tough exterior. After a gentle build-up, the song finally gets underway – and while the verses do seem to have the familiar melodic edge over downplayed guitar riffs, downbeat moods and rhythmic/drumming dynamics, the chorus is somewhat stripped back and harder edged than anything the band have ever presented before. The song is definitely a winner on the heavy front, but the chorus does take a little time to really unfold.
The follow-up track ‘Make Believe’ maintains the minimalist approach the band adopted in their song writing on the opener, but makes up for the absence of rock on its first half with an all-out full-on guitar drenched second half, while the single ‘Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)’ is almost a bridging track between old and new sounds, with Lester’s swathing keyboards and gorgeous chorus pop melodies.
But while the band have stripped their sound back in a lot of places, it’s never been at the cost of the guitars as the band do turn up the heat on tracks such as the driving ‘Busy Bees’, the distortion drenched/mechanical ‘Mean Spirits’, the sinister ‘Gun-Shy Sunshine’ and the powerful and stunning closer ‘Out Of Breath’.
Elsewhere, ‘Dots And Dashes (Enough Already)’ straddles the fine line between pop and alternative rock with considerable ease, while on the sparse ‘Here We Are (Chancer)’ and ‘The Pit’, the band flirt with programmed drum beats and synthesised sounds to create something completely different from what would normally be expected of the group, and push their sound in avenues previously unexpected.
‘Neck Of The Woods’ is exactly the sort of album you would expect from Silversun Pickups given the progression between their first two albums. It’s far from an instant album (Like ‘Swoon’), and far from a carbon copy of what has worked for the band in the past. What it is however, is a darker and more adventurous new effort, and the kind of album that rewards those who are willing to allow the songs to reveal their subtle intricacies and shrouded melodies with time.

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© Justin Donnelly

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