Maybe it was the hair, or the sales, or the name, or the record sleeves, or the Rock Band inclusion, or the squirmy, white-knuckle romantics of scruffy frontman Brian Aubert, but Silversun Pickups have become the go-to whipping-boy for anyone still gunning down 2006-wave. It takes a certain combination of gravitas and ignorance to slag off any notion of subtlety (or pride) and shout lines like, “Everyone’s so intimately rearranged, everyone can focus clearly with such shine” right in the world’s ears, but that’s who these four Angelinos were. Nothing represented the zeitgeist around Deschanel-indie quite like Carnavas. Most people would’ve erased these midnight-poetry tunes right off the word.doc the second we came to our senses, but not the Pickups, they had the balls to believe they were important. Six years later “Lazy Eye” remains inescapable, and if you’re willing to admit it, pretty damn arresting.
With all due respect to Peter Bjorn & John, Silversun Pickups are about the closest you can get to a one-hit-wonder in the mid-2000s indie-rock feeding frenzy. Their character has only diminished in recent years, and on Neck of the Woods it’s hard to remember even why we got mad in the first place. The Pickups wrote a record striving for that big-font cake more than ever before, vaporizing in flaccid, pedestrian, alt-rock purgatory – considering they roped in the guy who recorded Raditude, it probably wasn’t an accident.
Neck of the Woods is big, red, and loud, but mainly I’m drawn to the gaping, soul-shaped hole right through its middle. This is stadium schlock of the highest pedigree, the kind of thing that can make you feel desperately cynical about rock music. Four people desperately fumbling for the magic that made them famous, instead settling for a loose, bio-engineered representation – all this pregnant, manufactured melodrama dies right off the speakers. The pensive, beat-babbling “Here We Are (Chancer),” or the squeaky-clean rumble-ballad “Gun-Shy Sunshine,” it all sticks to the script with such cold precision. Not that we’d expect fuck-all (self)-righteous glory from the dudes who called an album Swoon, but c’mon, pulseless, professional pop-rock this studiously sterile? No grit or dirt, just factory-pressed earnestness. It’s hard to even identify the primary gripes when everything feels tin man hollow, like a projection of a projection. I can’t say the Pickups are phoning it in, simply because it’s hard to write an hour of music to intentionally game the listener, but the disconnection is starker than it’s ever been. It’s both uncanny and weirdly sympathetic when something so doggone desperate to move you can’t muster the strength to even get the door open.
But hey, maybe my door is pretty heavy, I mean, there’s no doubt Woods fits its purpose, I’m sure the rapidly-diminishing population still genuinely excited about a new Silversun Pickups record have waned their expectations to the point of calling Neck of the Woods an epic. There’s absolutely no doubt it will slash-and-burn festival grounds, and hey, “Bloody Mary” and “The Pit” actually earn their inevitable FM-radio streak. At the very least it might send a few teenyboppers down the right path, but it’s mostly a phantom. Neck of the Woods disintegrates on physical contact. Movie-trailer fodder, apple-store crescendos – the Pickups might’ve spent a career being marginalized, but lowest-common-denominator-core ain’t a good look.