I first heard Silversun Pickups back in my days as a college radio host. Flipping through the station's new albums, I saw "Carnavas," the band's 2006 full-length debut. Having read positive reviews, I checked it out. From the opening shoe-gazing guitar riff of lead track "Melatonin," I was completely hooked in a way I rarely am on first listens.
The band has maintained those positive reviews with each successive album, cultivating both commercial and critical success. That momentum carried over to the band's most recent release, "Neck of the Woods," which debuted in May at No. 6 and No. 1 on the Billboard and iTunes album charts, respectively.
All too rarely in these digital times have artists sustained that kind of momentum (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Franz Ferdinand didn't, for example), but perhaps most impressive is that Silversun Pickups have done so on the small Dangerbird Records imprint. When recently asked about leaving Dangerbird for a major label, lead singer Brian Aubert told Billboard, "Why would we leave? What (is a major label) going to do -- offer us a helicopter ride?"
But "Neck of the Woods" did bring a new partner in producer Garret "Jacknife" Lee (U2, Snow Patrol), a change that found the band moving beyond the old comparisons to former modern rock heroes The Smashing Pumpkins and taking more chances with songwriting.
"(Recording) was significantly different than the way we've ever done it before," keyboardist Joe Lester told Absolute Punk. "(Lee) encouraged us not to overly practice any of the stuff, just come with the ideas."
What resulted was a looser but more nuanced effort than the highly controlled songwriting of "Carnavas" and the refined approach found on "Swoon."
Drummer Christopher Guanlao confirmed with entertainment website Hitfix that Lee was a big reason why.
"He took out a lot of the fat," Guanlao said. "If we didn't have Jacknife around, we might have been going into the prog-rock world."
"We didn't need two choruses in a song," he continued. "We need one good one."
The response from critics and fans has been enthusiastic, with Paste Magazine touting it as the best mainstream rock album of the year.
"It's impossible to deny that not only have Silversun Pickups definitely arrived at their own sound, but that they're one of very few bands around that is finding new ground to break in a genre that most have given up for dead," Jason Ferguson wrote in his Paste review of the new album.
But even as the band evolves with each record, Aubert said Silversun Pickups still maintain the identity that fans connected with when they first heard "Carnavas."
"Obviously we realize we're playing bigger shows," Aubert told Fuse TV, "and sometimes we pop our bubble and are like, 'Wow, how did this happen?' "
Rockers on a roll