Threepenny Thursday – Neck of the Woods

2 Aug

I’ve always liked Silversun Pickups. I’m no expert; my entire knowledge of them is based on their first studio album, Carnavas, but man that was an excellent record. Lots to love: good lyricism and vocals, a simple, refined songwriting approach, and delicious guitar work – particularly in terms of their fuzztastic tone, which created a sound that was instantly recognizable and very unique. So, their new album, Neck of the Woods, is out! How does it compare?


The Opening –  It’s always super satisfying when an album opens on a strong note (PUN FULLY INTENDED). Artists tend to throw their second or third-strongest track right at the beginning, the better to hook the listener like an unsuspecting marlin. Neck of the Woods opens with “Skin Graph”, which is excellent if only for its pacing. It starts out in post-rock territory, all echoey slow-paced strums and electronic wavering ambience. This only lasts for the first forty seconds, until the percussion begins its slow build, and the song begins in earnest, with driving tickety-ticky drums and some classic Silversun vocals. A pleasant beginning, which reinforces established style and introduces new ideas . Check it:  

Guitar Tone – It’s hard to describe the distinctive guitar tone that defines the Silversun sound, but the two adjectives that work best for me are gauzy and fuzzy. It’s typified for me in their incredibly popular “Lazy Eye”, which you’ve very probably already heard. If you have, enjoy it again; if you haven’t, prepare your body for this shit: 

Just listen to that guitar at 2:20, it practically vibrates through your soul. I can only imagine the ribcage-thrumming wonder of seeing these guys live. So anyway in Neck of the Woods we see much more of this muffy goodness, and although the tone doesn’t deviate from their usual style, it acquires a softer feeling – less intense, more melodic. If you were a craven lunatic, intimidated by the very approachable alt-rock force of Carnavas, then I’ve got good news for you, coward: Neck of the Woods is much prettier. Your girlfriend will like it.

Uniformity – I imagine it must be tough for artists to satisfy their fans. They expect you to innovate without straying too far from the confines of the style that made them your fans in the first place. It’s a delicate balancing act, one which Silversun Pickups seem to dance through effortlessly – they’re nothing if not uniform in their approach, which keeps their sound distinct and recognizable. That said, they do go for a different mood on Neck of the Woods, which bounces between clean and crisp and heavy and raspy. It’s not as screamy as parts of Carnavas, but cleaner and smoother throughout – and, more importantly, consistent with the sound we’ve come to love and expect.


Uniformity – Like I said, it’s a double-edged blade. Carnavas was like a tapestry of sound, each song flowing into the next, trailing threads of common theme and tone. Taken in at once, it felt like a cohesive experience; if you wanted, you could assign the entire album a “colour” without much trouble (burnt umber, if you’re asking). This isn’t true of Neck of the Woods, which sounds a bit more schizophrenic. Take the chugging, growly “Mean Spirits”,

and balance it against the danceable, electro-inspired “The Pit”:

Both excellent songs, but they could almost be from different albums, and this hurts Neck of the Woods when comparing it to Carnavas.

The Ending – Neck of the Woods closes with “Out of Breath”, which I found to be almost entirely forgettable, despite a wicked-sharp riff pattern at the three-minute mark. It’s not an awful song, but I would have liked the album to end in as promising a way as it began. Slightly disappointing, but not enough to affect my overall impression.


Busy Bees

The album’s main single is “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”, but I think it should have been this song instead. It’s the most accessible track, with what I think are the best vocals on the whole album, and an infectious, catchy melody. It also builds nicely from a crisp bouncing guitar riff to an angry trilling buzz, which I found to be reminiscent of Carnavas in all the ways that counted. Gimme a few days and my opinion will very likely change, but for now, this is the track that coyly invites my finger to press it.

It’s a cool album! If you like distinctive, original alternative, you should definitely buy it.


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