Since the 2005 release of their impressive Pikul EP, L.A.’s Brian Aubert and Silversun Pickups have gone from strength to strength with barely a hitch in their stride. The band’s 2006 full-length debut Carnavas was a bona fide smash, artfully blending Shoegaze crackle and fuzz with frenetic Indie Rock verve to create the Pickups’ singular sonic fingerprint.
As it turned out, Pikul and Carnavas were just appetizers for the meaty and moody main course of 2009’s Swoon, which established the Pickups as one of the major musical forces of the year and earned them spots on an overwhelming number of year-end lists. In the face of Swoon’s ecstatic reception, the question of what the Pickups will do for an encore has been casting rather a long shadow over the past three years.
Neck of the Woods asks and answers the query with howling authority. The band blazes through an 11-song set that buzzes like a swarm of electric bees while still managing to fold in plenty of subtlety and nuance for counterpoint. The album’s lead-off track, “Skin Graph,” is a six minute case in point; deftly flitting from delicate electric Folk hymn to epic Grunge anthem and back again, surfing the tension that roils in the stylistic gap between extremes.
In less creative hands, “Make Believe” and “Busy Bees” would likely amble along like standard Emo mopefests, but stuttering drum beats and off kilter rhythm methodology give the songs a compelling presence, while “Here We Are (Chancer)” drops all the way back into a quiet Synth Pop groove that builds toward the explosive movie cop theme of “Mean Spirits” and the aptly titled slowburn of “Simmer.”
In many ways, Neck of the Woods is not nearly as immediate as its predecessors, but Aubert and Silversun Pickups are smart enough to realize that the best music grows like a garden, with patience, care and attention, and that’s where the album succeeds in pushing the Pickups’ already expansive boundaries.