Where To Start With… Pixies
A few years ago, if you were to scan through the history of acrimonious band break-ups and pick a group that you thought would never, ever reform and record new material, chances are that Pixies would have been pretty near the top of you list. After several years of being pioneers of the alternative rock scene with their famed ‘quiet-loud’ dynamic and stop-start arrangements that would influence a generation of bands like Nirvana and Pavement, singer and chief songwriter Black Francis abruptly announced on the BBC’s Radio 5 (as it was back then) that the band was finished, reportedly only notifying the other members of the band afterwards…by fax.
Even when, back in 2004, Hell partially froze over and the band reunited for a series of live shows, a new album still seemed highly unlikely as bassist Kim Deal refused repeatedly to record any new material, perhaps not wanting to damage the band’s legacy. That’s understandable; there is an oft-repeated quote about The Velvet Underground that says “not many people bought their records, but everyone who did started a band”, and the same could be said of Pixies – here is a band whose influence far outweighs their own commercial success.
In June 2013 came the almost inevitable announcement that Kim Deal was leaving the band, but altogether more surprising was the release of a new EP, titled simply EP 1, just a few months later in September. By January this year there was a second EP and confirmation that an album would follow. After a limited vinyl release for Record Store Day, next week the new LP, Indie Cindy, is finally on general release. So what does it sound like?
Well, after some initial trepidation before hitting the play button (“please don’t suck”) we’re pleased to report that it sounds every bit as good as we’d dared to hope. The album kicks off in typical Pixies fashion with ‘What Goes Boom’, which wouldn’t sound out of place on their earlier records with its angular, chugging riffs and ethereal backing vocals. The other highlights on what is a very strong album include the title track, which blends the Pixies’ complex time structures with a chorus that is almost surprisingly melodic, while ‘Bagboy’ features Black Francis spluttering a spoken word rant over its lo-fi drum groove. Other highlights include ‘Another Toe in the Ocean’ which sounds like the grandfather every song by Weezer, the spacey, slow rock of ‘Andro Queen’ and ‘Magdelena 318’ which, again, sounds like it could have been lifted from Doolittle or Surfer Rosa.
All in all it sounds like a heavier, better-engineered and slightly more melodic version of their earlier work. The band hasn’t reinvented their sound, but they don’t need to – so many of the bands around at the moment have a sonic palette that can be traced back to the Pixies work, the only danger here was that it would sound like the rest of the world had finally caught up with them. Fortunately, so unique is their approach to making music that they could never really sound like anything other than a band that couldn’t care less about what everyone else is doing, and Indie Cindy is all the better for it.
Obviously we’re fans, but for those who are less familiar with their back catalogue we’ve picked out 5 career highlights to get you started…
(click on the links below to find the albums in our download store)
from Come On Pilgrim
The closing track on their first mini-LP Come On Pilgrim, ‘Levitate Me’ features a guttural surf riff with Black Francis paraphrasing Christian rock singer Larry Norman (“Come on pilgrim, you know he loves you”). One of 8 tracks on the album taken from the ban’s initial demo, known as The Purple Tape, it’s a highlight of the album and an indication of things to come.
Where Is My Mind?
(from Surfer Rosa)
Probably one of the better-known Pixies songs owing to its appearance in the closing sequence of Fight Club, this haunting track taken from their first full-length LP Surfer Rosa is a perfect demonstration of the band’s quiet-loud dynamic at work. Joey Santiago’s jangling, discordant guitar riff blends with Kim Deal’s spooky backing vocals to create an atmospheric and unsettlingly beautiful soundscape. One of their best.
Here Comes Your Man
Probably one of the most accessible tracks the Pixies ever recorded, ‘Here Comes Your Man’ was another to feature on The Purple Tape but was not included on either of the first two albums due to the band’s concerns that it was too commercial sounding. Francis has since commented that he felt ‘embarrassed’ by the song, but it made the album Doolittle thanks to the insistence of producer Gil Norton. We’re glad it did, because it’s still one of our favourites.
Dig for Fire
Francis once commented that ‘Dig for Fire’ sounded like a ‘bad Talking Heads imitation’ but we think he was being too hard on himself - it’s one of the best moments on Bossanova along with ‘Velouria’ and showcases everything that’s good about the Pixies: Kim Deal’s harmonies, Joey Santiago’s innovative guitar work and Black Francis’ unique vocal style, which ranges from talking to screaming, with everything in between.
Planet of Sound
(from Trompe Le Monde)
One of our favourite Pixies tracks ever, this cut from Trompe Le Monde, their last album before the break-up, features a truly cathartic chorus with Francis screaming his lungs out over Santiago’s twisting, exploding guitars and Deal’s simple, grinding bassline. It’s noisy, it’s chaotic and it’s brilliant.