I think it's very important to know going in that this is a very different band this time around, musically. Neck of the Woods takes some of the dark edge that showed its face a bit on Swoon and expands upon it. The entire CD feels, as singer Bryan Aubert put it so perfectly, like a horror movie, and going with that theme, Neck of the Woods is far less "pretty" than past Pickups albums have been; instead, its far darker and more electronic.
It was something I worried about when I heard Jacknife Lee (Bloc Party) would be producing, and while I'd definitely say that this is not my favorite Pickups album, it's still a cool and absorbing listen with some incredibly awesome songs worthy of the Silversun Pickups name, and probably their best lyrics to date.
The CD opener, Skin Graph, starts it off perfectly, its jarring switches from calm to chaos, along with a very powerful chorus, making for a true rush that the CD takes a little while to top. There's a decent song stuck somewhere inside the 2nd track, Make Believe, but the song could have used some editing to get there. Songs like Mean Spirits, Out of Breath, and Simmer, while they have some cool stuff going on musically, are let down by somewhat underwhelming choruses which lack the infectious hooks that I'd expect from the Pickups. Simmer's another one in particular that could have been tightened up a bit.
But then just when I began to feel disappointed, Neck of the Woods brings things back with The Pit, Dots and Dashes, and Gun-Shy-Sunshine. The Pit's fast-moving and exciting, definitely woke me up after the previous two tracks. Then Dots and Dashes comes along; it sounds like Panic Switch if it was played in a nightclub from hell (and I mean that in the best possible way) with some awesome bass and a truly epic chorus. Gun-Shy-Sunshine's a cool little upbeat song that also seems to have some sadness lurking beneath. All excellent tracks. Busy Bees and Bloody Mary are other good ones.
Looking back, I'm a little surprised that I gave both Carnavas and Swoon only 4-stars. I'd say they're 5-star efforts easily, ones that I was unnecessarily critical of for whatever reason. Neck of the Woods, which I'm giving 4-stars, isn't I think up to the standards set by either Swoon or Carnavas. I truly miss the quiet beauty of tracks like Rusted Wheel and Seasick, and while it's cool to see a LOUD Pickups album, I hope future CDs see the band go back to a style that's a little more catchy and, for lack of a better word, pretty.
Still, Neck of the Woods is a must-hear for fans of the band or those who have never yet dove into a Pickups album. There are some incredible moments on here and the Pickups' usual dreamy sound is fully intact, though far darker and more aggressive.
Note: I have to point out that though the quality of this mixing is still high, it's undoubtable that it isn't quite as crisp as Swoon and Carnavas. You really have to turn the volume up *loud* to catch everything, whereas the subtleties in the other Pickups albums were far more prominent in the mix. Doesn't sound bad, just, not as good.
Dots and Dashes
Here We Are
Out of Breath
Not a fan of: