My first conscious exposure to the shoegaze genre was with Silversun Pickups‘ “Lazy Eye” sometime around early 2007. More accurately, I probably first heard the shoegaze genre during the advent of my Tooth and Nail Records craze, when I looked into indie group Starflyer 59 (back then, I didn’t realize the style of Jason Martin’s project had a name). My short music attention span got the better of me and I moved on from Silversun, that is until 2009 when “Panic Switch” began making the rounds at alternative radio. This single skyrocketed to the top of my iPod playlists, and from this point on the band was forever on my radar. So, when offered the opportunity to review Neck of the Woods I was thrilled.
So, how does Neck of the Woods stack up? I’ll say that Silversun Pickups has used this project to simultaneously refine their sound and make it bigger. I could feel my adrenaline pumping when the ambient notes of radio single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” first began to flow through my car speakers. This was brought to a screeching halt when the bare bones singing of Brian Aubert cut short the crescendo with some vague keyboard plinking in the background. Over time, however, I realized that the counterintuitive technique works for the song. Counterintuitive doesn’t really describe the rest of the album, but refined and huge certainly do.
A distinct Radiohead influence can be heard on the vast majority of the new tunes. A true Radiohead fan will be familiar with the band’s ability to create minimalist tunes that can just as easily create tension as relaxation. Opening track “Skin Graph” (yeesh, doesn’t that song title alone make you tense up a little bit?) and “Here We Are (Chancer)” do this quite well.
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Never fear folks, the trademark Silversun influences we love are still present. Nikki Monninger lays some sick bass lines, Brian croons wistfully yet ethereally, and simple yet effective drumming carries each track. “Busy Bees” finds the band a bit all over the place with their strumming, while “Simmer” sounds like a classic Silversun tune, in the vein of “Substitution” from Swoon. The band decided to save what is argubly the best for last. “Out of Breath” has become one of my favorite Silversun tunes, and for good reason. Deep bass lines get my head bobbing right out of the gate – this beat alone is difficult to get out of my head. It’s like the band took all the best elements from their other hit “The Royal We” and did some rearranging, some refining, and some new composing into this piece of art that simply is one of the most effective things they’ve put out.
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The quartet has solidified their reputation as a giant in the alternative scene with the release of this album. As with every band that evolves, some fans will be alienated and some may find the Radiohead influences to be blatant plagiarism. I disagree – the band has taken other sounds and made them their own. If you’re looking for some rock music equally good for grooving or zoning out to, make it a priority to purchase Neck of the Woods.