As I mentioned in my post-apocalyptic playlist, my favorite band of the moment is Silversun Pickups. I learned about them the same time most people did, back when Lazy Eye was all over the radio; I picked up that Album, Carnavas, and their prior (non-studio) album Pikul and I loved every song on them. When their next album released, called Swoon, I loved it even more, which I suppose is fitting because everyone loved it more–the lead single off the album, Panic Switch, instantly became their biggest hit, and a #1 chart-topper; I admit I can never decide if Panic Switch or Royal We is a my favorite. The point is I like their music.
Last week Silverun Pickups released their newest album, Neck of the Woods, and in the past week I’ve listened to it extensively, writing several scenes of ISOLATION and FRAGMENTS with it (and, eventually, their other albums) as background music. It’s a great album, but my feelings on it are a bit conflicted. The best and simplest description I can offer is that Neck of the Woods is their Kid A–a more insular, experimental album coming on the heels of a hugely popular mainstream album. Just like Radiohead’s Kid A, which followed their enormously successful OK Computer, SP’s Neck of the Woods shows a band in search of its own identity, rejecting a bit of their broad appeal in exchange for finding something more unique and personal. I think it mostly works, with the caveat that the process seems to have smoothed their curve of quality significantly; the overall strength of the album is the best they’ve ever done, but no single song stands out as, for example, “the new Panic Switch.” Neck of the Woods is a brilliant album without a single.
The Radiohead comparison extends to some of their sound, as well, with tracks like Here We Are having a distinctly Radio-headish vibe to them. When Silversun Pickups first started they were often compared to Smashing Pumpkins, and their early songs bore this influence proudly. As they grow and stretch themselves they’re finding influence in other places, and in Neck of the Woods I can hear a lot of Temper Trap, especially in tracks like Mean Spirit. I don’t think they’re actively trying to emulate Temper Trap, just that they and Temper Trap are chasing some of the same sounds and techniques. Mean Spirit is, perhaps not coincidentally, the most radio-friendly song on the album, but it’s not the best. The best work on the album comes from their more experimental tracks, where they seem to be eschewing influence altogether and really trying to find their own sound.
My favorite song on the album was, initially, the last one, Out of Breath, but I suspect this is mostly an effect of how new the sound of the album is in general–it took me until the last song to really get what they were doing at first, and in light of that Out of Breath was able to hit me when I was finally ready to hear it. This might be because the second-to-last song, Gun-Shy Sunshine, is their most traditional, and the closest in style to their older stuff, and the juxtaposition made me appreciate the new stuff that much more. As I’ve gone back and listened again and again I find myself most strongly drawn to some of the stuff in the middle, particularly Busy Bees and Bloody Mary, the latter being hands down my new favorite, and one of my favorite SP songs overall. It starts with a classic Silversun Pickups structure, the kind of slow burn dissonance that made me love them in the first place, and then takes it in a new and exciting direction. It’s the track where their new experiments blend most seamlessly with their signature style, and shows a promising future for the band as a whole.
And that’s really the question, isn’t it? “Where do they go from here?” Radiohead followed Kid A with Amnesiac, an even more insular, more experimental album that sent all but the die-hard fans running back to the familiarity of Ok Computer and The Bends. The later Radiohead stuff is great, but very few people, if any, will point to those later songs as their favorites. Will Silversun Pickups move further toward the Amnesiac end of the pool, or will they take the new sound they’ve discovered on Neck of the Woods and combine it with the chart-topping energy and appeal they showed in Swoon? I have no idea, and I hope the answer is “whatever makes them the happiest.” I’m a huge fan, and I’ll keep buying their albums regardless.
Until then, I go back to my own work, blissfully set to a playlist of all four albums–plus the mini-album of extra Swoon songs–all shuffled together. May their search for a uniquely personal sound help me find a little more of my own.