Several months ago, fans of ‘90s-style alternative guitar rock received a small treat, in the form of the third studio record from Los Angeles’s Silversun Pickups. And make no mistake, the American ‘90s are very relevant to this band.
Their central reference point is the Smashing Pumpkins: a big, shiny sound with a few noise effects for texture; equally big emotions; plenty of heft and heaviness in the guitars; and a glorious overload of drama, both musical and lyrical.
Silversun Pickups’ palette is rather limited, but they’re good enough that this rarely feels like a problem. Neck of the Woods is grand, tuneful, and compelling; it ticks every box.
Theatricality is this album’s guiding principle and the band is definitely good at it. From the first thirty seconds of “Skin Graph”, it’s clear they are stretching out their sound and indulging their penchant for drama. The six-minute song has a sweeping, self-consciously epic effect that sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Most of the tunes that follow work on tension-and-release arrangements augmented by a powerful and prominent rhythm section, which gives them an attention-grabbing force and insistence. The guitars, too, sound sharp and massive.
The adolescent-sounding voice of singer/songwriter Brian Aubert adds a soft touch that makes the whole thing seem more nuanced, even though he rarely quite sounds like he’s deeply invested in what he’s singing about. The lyrics are romantic, evocative, extreme, and vivid – a cocktail of yearning and fatalism.
There is a fair bit of dissonant noise shaded through most of the tracks for atmosphere, and this has drawn comparisons with the less mainstream-ready of Silversun Pickups’ influences. But really, they never use it as more than dressing. Sonic clarity is the order of the day.
Silversun Pickups make music that is generally open, accessible, and ready for the stadiums, but they still tip their hat to the underground and keep one eye on their indie credibility. With this album it hasn’t worked, to judge by the reaction from the hardline indie press, who have mostly run for the hills. And it’s true that Neck of the Woods is noticeably more radio-friendly than the band’s previous work.
But that’s fine – they know what they’re doing, they do it well, and the music is good. If this record loses them some of their original fan base, hopefully they will win enough of a broader one that it will only spur them on to greater things.