I was instantly drawn to Silversun Pickups’ “coming out party” back in 2006 with the release of Carnavas, due to their similarity to early Smashing Pumpkins. I was further intrigued that they could still stand on their own two feet as an act that was revitalizing an indie scene in need of something loud and rhythmic. “There’s No Secrets This Year”, the lead-off to 2009’s Swoon, seemed like the most overt homage to everything the Pumpkins ever did well on Siamese Dream. It was a sophomore effort that played its cards close to the vest, opting for safety as opposed to diversity.
So it would be expected that the band, now on their third full-length, would opt to expand their sound this time around. I’ve now spent most of my waking moments over the past week trying to find inspiration to write about Neck of the Woods. For the most part, it really hasn’t come – and that’s probably the worst thing you could say about an album. I neither love it, nor do I hate it. It’s an album that’s just sort of there, and there are bands that will always have that kind of album in their discography. I’ll admit my hopes were a bit higher knowing what Jacknife Lee was able to coax out of both Kings of Leon on their past two releases and even with the last Cold War Kids release.
The album opens to a buzzing akin to an F-Zero racer that can’t really get off the ground. There are signs of life at the 2:45 mark and again at the closing 1:30. I like the lyrical tone of “Skin Graph” – there is a primitive yearning to belong that seems just out of reach. (“There is a reason why the skin I’m in is ordinary and the things that you might like don’t grow inside of me.”) Second track “Make Believe” feels like a throwaway or b-side that any band aping the Pickups could’ve written.
First single is the mediocre “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” in all its My Bloody Valentine-loving wall-of-sound glory. Album highlight “Busy Bees” finds the band playing to strengths and traversing a couple of different time changes in song structure to exhibit their musicianship.
From there the track “Here We Are (Chancer)” is up. Yes, here we are, stuck in this 4:49 song that pretty much goes nowhere. While the track is both a subdued change-up and a play for the rhythm section, frontman Brian Aubuert intimates “it’s the right time to lose you”, and that seems to be exactly what they do. It’s as if someone hit the snooze button.
“Mean Spirited” follows with a neat little plucky start surrounded by some signature fuzz, and returns to the loud-quiet-loud dynamic again. This again is followed by another long dose of audio vicodin in the form of the seven-minute “Simmer”, aptly titled because it doesn’t really do anything until the 3:20 mark. Even then, the bass and guitar lines feel like they’ve been used by the band before.
“The Pit” is the most honest and refreshing change of pace for the band. It sounds engaging and heavily influenced by New Order, of all references. The chorus is powerful and bright and we see at this point where Jacknife Lee’s influence can benefit an act. The Pickups flirt again with a bit of an 80’s vibe with “Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)”, which boasts a driving rhythm that, for whatever reason, reminds me of Spy Hunter. Favorite line: “The edge of a big reveal/could be the end of the story.”
“Gun-Shy Sunshine” sounds like Danger Mouse hijacked the verses and let the band hold on to the chorus (which again feels redundant) – so I’m not really recommending either side of the equation for another 5:40 of your life. The album closes with “Out of Breath”, a song I think would translate well live with strobes. There’s even a nod to Thin Lizzy on the solo. By and large though, I can only vouch for about five and a half of the eleven tracks on Neck of the Woods. We’re lucky this is music and not grade school then. It passes, but not by much.