Silversun Pickups have always felt like a band whose music was born very much from and for the body; a group with a finger on the pulse of what drove our passions, our lives, the inner reaches of the human psyche. And on paper, Neck Of The Woods seems to affirm these bodily focuses; a scaffold construction of Skin Graphs, Nerve Endings, Blood, Breath and Spirits. At the beating heart of it all; Brian Aubert’s snarling, feral, almost androgynous vocals. And this laced around with a richly decadent machine-tooled sound for the iPod age. But even with all the right components in place, a great album isn’t born without some vestige of soul to it, and soul is one thing Neck Of The Woods finds itself sorely lacking.
The album’s lead single Bloody Mary makes for a depressingly underwhelming line-in to proceedings, a world-weary non-starter of a track that scrabbles around for a hook and fails to latch onto any semblance of one. It’s something of a running theme for an album where nothing ever comes close to the lofty excellence of 2009’s Panic Switch. Used with such adrenaline-rush brilliance on the trailer for Zack Snyder’s fantasy flick Sucker Punch, Panic Switch cast the band as the bright upstarts, with the enthusiasm and dazzling Hollywood scope to coalescence into something of real, enduring substance on their next record. But Neck Of The Woods is not that album, and feels all the poorer for it.
Simmer offers a moment of rare promise, building from trembling electronics to a spacious, sleekly-lined rocker – but at nearly seven minutes in length, it takes far too long to get going. In its faltering excesses of production foreplay its various energies quickly dissipate out, lost to the void. Likewise, The Pit whiles itself away in a simpering pool of dark passions, the kind of bassy, flanged beauty that’d probably sound heavenly in the midnight hours of some sweat-heaving warehouse gig – bodies pressed to the walls – but in the clinical environs of the studio, it never quite achieves the sense of atmosphere you feel it’s gunning for.
Dots And Dashes lays claim to one of the album’s best chorus, and Out of Breath follows closely behind, albeit very nearly losing itself amongst scratchy percussion and the short shrift of guitar riffs that this far into the record, are starting to feel stale. Still, they’re two of the precious few tracks here with a real sense of bulk and purpose to them. Neck Of The Woods’ greatest failing is the apathy it feels stuck in at times – it’s like you’ve been handed keys to the world’s most stunning supercar, all sumptuous curves and immaculate body-work, only to find there’s not a drop of fuel in the engine.
Above all, there’s the sense that if the band tightened up and muscled up, Neck Of The Woods could easily become the record it seems on the cusp of hinting at. Mid-album highlight Mean Spirits offers perhaps the best glimpse of that potential; a distorted, stabbing thrill-ride of an anthem – but drowned in the massy formlessness of everything else, it bears little hope of shining out.
In a world bereft of a new Placebo album in recent years, Silversun Pickups represent the next best thing when it comes to deliriously Machiavellian rock, dark as hell and with a keen intelligence to boot. But Neck Of The Woods isn’t the record to sell them to the world – moreover, it feels like a work in progress, skeletally over-precise and over-long.