Breathing Down the ‘Neck’

Courtesy of Dangerbird

To call the Silversun Pickups an energetic band would be an understatement. Their live shows are a testament to what alternative rock seems to have lost in the age of indie apathy. “Panic Switch,” the single and biggest hit off the band’s LP2 “Swoon,” is indicative of how the band seems to be transitioning into these heavy gallops of songs. Lost are the acoustic singles from their lead-off EP, “Pikul.” If “Panic Switch” was any indicator of the direction of the band, it has come into full view with their LP3. “Neck of the Woods,” Silversun Pickups’ latest release, has formally ditched the dreamy songs about love.

With track names like “Skin Graph,” “Mean Spirits,” “The Pit” and “Out of Breath,” Silversun Pickups’ latest effort isn’t messing around or pretending to tread lightly. Using heavy effects and reverb on instruments has always been indicative of the band’s sound, but drum compression is a welcome addition to the band’s repertoire, though some of the intricacies of drummer Christopher Guanlao sometime seem lost at times.

The album begins with “Skin Graph,” a testament to Silversun Pickups’ dynamic control. While the song speeds up and gets loud at some parts, the band has absolutely no trouble quieting down for a shuffling breakdown. It’s this level of songwriting control that’s always set the band apart from the roves of indie noise rock. When vocalist Brian Aubert calls out in his high-pitched, hoarse growl of a singing voice, “The skin’s alive; it moves me,” one can’t help but think of some influence by Nine Inch Nails.

“Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” takes the album in a different direction, using M83-indebted synth arpeggios to supplement the guitar strumming and bassist Nikki Monninger’s sparing baselines.

In “Here We Are (Chancer),” the band shows their quieter side. Backboned by Guanlao’s ultra-compressed beat, the song deftly controls the tone of the song with a sliding background guitar.

“Mean Spirits,” by far the most energetic on the album (which is saying something), begins with a synchronized bass and guitar part. With an energetic baseline in the forefront rivaling that of “Panic Switch,” Silversun Pickups delivers a sprint here. It’s amazing that Aubert controls the energy in his voice for this song, despite the baseline and through lyrics like “Mean spirits are high / Please keep going on / This beauty and your venom.” Dipping almost into progressive rock for the duration of this jam and its false ending, Silversun Pickups certainly have not skimped on the production value.

The production on this album as a whole is excellent; “Simmer” seems to careen back and forth between left and right, and the compression on Guanlao’s beats never reaches an unbearable level. Though the level of artifice in “The Pit” goes the same caddy way as most of the songs off The Strokes’ “Angles,” the album rarely suffers from bad songwriting decisions.

The same dynamics of “Mean Spirits” appear a bit more controlled with “Busy Bees” and “Out of Breath.” The former keeps the track from going out of control by keeping drums quiet, rolling through beats, sparingly using snare before escalating into its crescendo. The latter ends the album by syncing snare-drum with the guitar rhythm’s refrain. Both recapture the essence of Silversun Pickups, long upward spiraling melodies that transition into loud choruses and quiet breakdowns.

The Silversun Pickups sound of “Pikul” may be lost here, but the Pickups’ new, vaguely horror-mystery  distortion won’t be lost on fans of their energy.

Rating: 4/5