Los Angeles’ Silversun Pickups are back with Neck of the Woods, their first full release since 2009′s Swoon. The new album is a slight departure from previous efforts, with the band at times eschewing their traditional guitar-driven distortion for a more sampled and produced sound.
Opening with “Skin Graph,” the album leads in with a much more subdued sound than previous efforts. With the exception of a few swells of siren-like distortion, most notably the crescendo at its mid-point, the opener is a much gentler track than long-time fans are accustomed to.
After a final burst of well-produced sound, we’re eased into the beginning notes of “Make Believe.” Once again, the band shows hints of its particular brand of distortion, but somehow even that feels dampened and almost ethereal.
Which brings us to the album’s first single: “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings).” It’s somewhat unfortunate that this is the song picked to promote the album. I kept waiting for the song to find its momentum, which I never really felt like it did.
The album finally finds its legs with “Busy Bees,” although the momentum is nearly lost with “Here We Are (Chancer),” which brings another stretch of airy wandering.
I suspect this is just meant to lull the listener into a false sense of ease and complacency, as the aptly titled “Mean Spirits” kicks in with a decidedly more aggressive tempo than we’ve been treated to up to now. A tempo that continues on through “Simmer.”
“The Pit” is probably the newest ground broken on this album. With a quick tempo and a much more keyboard-driven sound, this is probably the closest to a pop/dance song that the band has ever put out. Somewhere lurking in this band’s DNA is some New Order and Joy Division, and they are finally letting that part of their personality out to see some daylight. I want to condemn this as simply following the ’80s revival trend that’s happening right now, but I’m unable to, because they carry it off so gracefully.
If “Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)” isn’t the next single released from the album, I may take it as a personal affront. Brian’s light vocals layer over a groovy bass line with some of the best melody work of the album.
By this point, the band has settled into a strong groove and finishes out with the slow-but-steady “Gun-Shy Sunshine” and a final flourish with “Out of Breath.”
Neck of the Woods is weighed down at points by track lengths that are a bit long and some repetitious portions that feel a little over indulgent. The first half of the album suffers the most from this, leading to an effort that feels less accessible than past albums. Some of their experimentation pays off in the latter half of the album, though, so we are left with an album that rewards listeners who stick it out to the end.
For newcomers to the band, I’d probably still recommend starting with the more accessible Swoon. As an album, it provides a more comprehensive work and remains a better introduction to the band’s general sound.
Check out “Dots and Dashes”.