It’s 2012. Let’s not go down the road of determining whether or not Silversun Pickups sounds like or doesn’t sound like Smashing Pumpkins (they do, and it’s okay). Let’s instead talk about why Neck of the Woods is the best mainstream rock album of the year.
Granted, there’s not a whole lot of real competition out there in the category, given the sheer dominance that reductive butt-rock has in the genre. But, with Neck of the Woods, Silversun Pickups not only reminds listeners of what a particular band in the ‘90s sounded like, but also how refreshing rock ‘n’ roll sounded at the time. Today, with “cooler” bands gravitating toward either the raw/abrasive or the bland/sleepy poles of rock’s axis, there’s very little action in the vast middle, where power and accessibility can combine with smarts and style (but often don’t, resulting in, well, butt-rock). Silversun Pickups has been digging around in that chasm for six years now, and while the band’s debut was too clearly beholden to the Pumpkins and the second album was too ambitious in its attempts to escape them, Neck of the Woods finds the band taking a much more natural approach.
By infusing some space-rock elements and moving away from an all-dynamics-all-the-time bombast, the atmospherics here are more subtle, but also much more effective. There’s a warmer, less clinical sound to the album’s most straightforward and rocking tracks (“Mean Spirits”) as well as on its more nuanced numbers (the album-closing mini-epic “Out of Breath”); even when Silversun threads synth-pop textures into “The Pit,” the result still manages to have a human heart beating at its core. Of course, there are some predictable forays into shoegaze-y sounds (“Bloody Mary [Nerve Endings]”) and blunt-force Pumpkins homages (the main riff and chorus in “Gun-Shy Sunshine”), but, if you’re truly being honest, it’s impossible to deny that not only has Silversun Pickups definitely arrived at their own sound, but that they’re one of very few bands around who is finding new ground to break in a genre that most have given up for dead. And that’s not just commendable, it’s damned near heroic.