Historically, I’ve kept my posts about music away from this blog, because… man I don’t know. It’s not like there’s some other place where they’ll get more attention. Now that this blog is multimedia in practice as well as in theory, I should post about music here.
This year, Silversun Pickups released a new album called Neck of the Woods, and I found it a big disappointment. Critics don’t seem to agree—the album has been well-received, and to be fair, it’s not bad at all (unlike Circa Survive’s new album, ugh). Had I not heard any more of the band’s music, I probably wouldn’t care about it. Maybe I would’ve liked it, maybe not, but it wouldn’t leave me so disappointed.
To put it simply, Neck of the Woods lacks punch. The songs are floaty and unmemorable, all melting together, but not in the good way like on a Pink Floyd album—in a negative way, where nothing sticks out, and it feels like a slog between indistinguishable bits of samey shoegazing riffs.
The band’s first album, Carnavas, is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s got punch out the ass. The entirety of Melatonin and Well Thought Out Twinkles; every little moment breaking up the sparsity in Lazy Eye; the opening riff and solos in Little Lover’s So Polite; the chorus in Common Reactor; and plenty more—these moments have impact and stick out in my mind. On Swoon (which still isn’t a great album, but is much better than Neck of the Woods), there’s stuff like the dramatic organs towards the end of The Royal We and the bassline from Panic Switch, which make those songs feel legendary.
Neck of the Woods attempts punch moments, but they fall flat. This is especially true in the first track, Skin Graph, which has guitar swells that punctuate bits of the song. They’re kind of generic, but the real killer is that they’re quieter than the rest of the song. It’s clear that these sounds are meant to strike out, but they instead shrink back into the track. Towards the end, when it finally breaks open The Royal We-style, there’s not enough weight to it. The result is an “okay” song, which is nonetheless the best on the album.
Of course, punch isn’t all that matters, and Silversun Pickups has made plenty of great songs that don’t have this punch. Their first EP, Pikul, has no real punch moments, but it’s still a great album, largely because of the thick mood it creates. The songs use a lot of low-key, repetitive riffs to build atmosphere, and while it’s not as memorable as the songs on Carnavas, it still works. In fact, All The Go Inbetweens is one of my favorite songs by the band because it does so much to convey a thick tone using a slow, methodical pace (it’s about 7 minutes, the longest Silversun Pickups song).
Neck of the Woods is meandering and slow, but not in a meaningful way. Most of the songs don’t go anywhere and leave no impression. No mood, no flair, nothing. The few songs that are actually kind of decent are washed over in the mediocrity that is the rest of the album. Take Mean Spirits, which is a decent song, and one of the heavier ones the band has put out. The track is more or less on-par with most of Swoon, but by the time I get to it, I’m usually bored and burned out on the four lame songs which came before it.
I think I know why Neck of the Woods isn’t very good, but it’s just a theory. One of the reviews I read praised the release for having a more unique sound, whereas Carnavas, for instance, was constantly compared to Smashing Pumpkins. It seems very likely that Silversun Pickups were trying to move in their own creative direction and rely less on the conventions of the genre set by their forebears.
It’s a respectable ambition I suppose, but personally, I liked Carnavas way more than I like Smashing Pumpkins, because despite the similarities, Silversun Pickups *did* inherently leave their own mark on the style, and that mark was something I really appreciated. I feel that with their last two albums, Silversun Pickups hasn’t been so much improving and expanding on their direction from the first album as they have been trying to take it in a different direction.
Or maybe they’re just out of good ideas. The structure of a lot of the songs on Neck of the Woods are like the structure of songs on Swoon, but Swoon is still a much better album. Who knows. I only worry that I’ll never get to hear another Silversun Pickups release that I love half as much as I do Carnavas.