Another Silversun Pickups album and another slating received for sounding like the Smashing Pumpkins (Carnavas), or for trying to sound less like the ‘Pumpkins (Swoon). They do, but then Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most acclaimed rock bands of the ‘90s.
Neck Of The Woods’ opener ‘Skin Graph’ starts mellower than Pickups fans may be used to, from melancholy keyboards and frontman Brian Aubert’s low “oohs” before building slowly into the familiar guitar drone making way for the first verse. The song’s real strength arrives about 3 minutes in, where the guitar and vocals build into their trademark crescendo. Departing from some earlier work, the track then becomes much more subdued, fading into muted guitar and ethereal vocals, gradually increasing into another summit rounding off the track. The album’s biggest flaw would be that many of the songs are structured similarly, slowly leading to a climax after about four minutes.
Lead single ‘Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)’ perfectly summarizes the album as a whole, as it has SSPU’s familiar shoegaze sound, but more polished and thought out than before. The extra effort in production certainly gives a more epic feel to the songs, which will benefit them as they line up to play festivals and arenas over the coming months. However, sometimes I just can’t help but feel like it detracts something, and I long for the scuzz of ‘Lazy Eye’.
Overall, the band haven’t tried to rehash their previous records, instead choosing to adapt their sound without making it unrecognisable. Unfortunately, this results in the standout tracks standing out because they sound so different, rather than simply being brilliant tracks. For example, the solo in ‘Simmer’ wouldn’t sound out of place in a metal song, and ‘Here We Are (Chancer)’ is introduced by way of a syncopated drum beat. This isn’t to say that these songs aren’t brilliant, the latter being my favourite of the album.
Somehow, it seems as though Neck Of The Woods doesn’t amount to the sum of its parts. There isn’t a single weak song on the album, all the more impressive as it’s almost an hour long. I just feel something is missing; although hopefully the album will grow on me. Neck Of The Woods is Silversun Pickups at their finest, but perhaps singer Brian Aubert said it best on Carnavas’ track ‘Lazy Eye’; “I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life, but it’s not quite right”. Regardless, it’s one of the American rock albums of the year.