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Thursday, 17 May 2012 11:00

Album review: Silversun Pickups roll through 'Neck of the Woods'

Album review: Silversun Pickups roll through 'Neck of the Woods'
Written by Erin Frank
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Silversun Pickups
"Neck of the Woods"
Dangerbird

As a Silversun Pickups record, "Neck of the Woods" sounds exactly like you'd expect it to: cascading guitars, distorted shimmer and Nikki Monninger's breathily-insistent vocals cosseted in waves of reverb that wash through the speakers.

The band's distinctive alt-indie sound set them apart from other Silver Lake acts in the early-to-mid-2000s and still marks them immediately. "Pikul" sounds much like "Carnavas" which sounds much "Swoon," and "Neck of the Woods" follows this pattern. While there are a few embellishments on each successive album, deviation is not a part of the Silversun Pickups' plan. This can be restrictive, but "Neck of the Woods" opened in the iTunes Top 100 U.S. Albums chart and later moved to the Top 10, so I'm left to assume that this was a calculated (and evidently successful) choice.

Produced by Jacknife Lee (who also produced, among others, The Raveonettes, Snow Patrol, Crystal Castles and R.E.M.), "Neck of the Woods" plays on physical reactions to emotional triggers. The band's distortion is measured and their drone harmonious, resulting in a dark swoon that brings to mind driving too fast through L.A. at night or maybe a few less pure deeds.

The first track, "Skin Graph," slowly builds with choral vocals and strings, then expands with an industrial swell of sound before contracting abruptly into Chris Guanlao's shallow snare staccato. The song is an erratic heartbeat, flutter mixed with a rush of blood to the extremities, deep heavy breathing followed by a sucking in of air so tight that your chest hurts to bursting.

The follow up, "Make Believe," is both desperate and dizzying, broken and then rebuilt by Brian Aubert's crunching guitar. Later songs like "Here We Are (Chancer)" are intimate and tense like breakup sex, while "Mean Spirits" is frantic, driven and loud, backed by twisted instrumentals and punctuated with honeyed panting.

Some lyrical content aside, a good portion of "Neck of the Woods" could be classified as sex music. Another portion seems influenced by new-wave tracks and goth clubs thanks to member Joe Lester's pairing of electronic beats with solemn keys. "Bloody Mary (Never Endings)" is gloomy but soaring, and "The Pit" and "Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)" hint at dance territory. Sexy still, but in a different way from the rest of the album.

If there is always a track on an album that showcases each member equally and with esteem, this album's would be "Gun-Shy Sunshine." The track is threaded with a relentless bass line, and Aubert's vocals are compressed until the chorus, where they broaden into an arch echo just barely backed by Monninger's whisper. Guanlao's drums and Lester's keys just sort of percolate around until the very end, when everything else fades away to an ambient vapor.

Most of the songs on "Neck of the Woods" are longer than or just approach five minutes, but they barrel along and into each other with varying velocity. Rests are few and short until the next acceleration, moving the entire album forward and building new atmospheres -- if not a new sound -- as it goes.

Neck Of The Woods by Silversun Pickups

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