October 11, 2016 Pixies – Head Carrier (Album Review)
One of the most influential bands to ever emerge of the fertile ’90s American Alternative Rock scene, Pixies, with its heady music, has become the epitome of sonic polarity – a perfect blend of the catchy and melodic aspect of Indie Pop and the chaotic noise and dissonance of Punk Rock, making Pixies’ music an alternative to the Alternative. Formed in 1986 in Massachusetts, United States by Black Francis (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Joey Santiago (lead guitar), Kim Deal (bass, backing vocals), and David Lovering (drums), Pixies was one of the bands that best defined the sound of ’90s Alternative Rock, cited as a major influence even by the late Kurt Cobain of the mighty Nirvana (“Smells like Teen Spirit”).
In their heyday, from their humble beginning in the late ’80s to their peak and eventual disbandment in the early ’90s, Pixies got to release a quadrumvirate of albums, from 1988’s Surfer Rosa to 1991’s Trompe le Monde; and a slew of distinct songs that exhibit the band’s penchant for both melody and dissonance, such as “Gigantic,” “Where Is My Mind?,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Cecilia Ann,” “Velouria,” “Planet of Sound,” and “U-Mass.”
By the time Alternative Rock music exploded into commerciality in the mid-’90s, Pixies was already gone, but the band’s influence on the genre could never be underestimated; its DNA inevitably seeped into the musicality of many bands that came after it. This was also the reason the Alternative Rock community rejoiced when Pixies decided to re-form for live performances in 2004. However, it took another decade before the band was able to release a full album of new materials, in the form of 2014’s Indie Cindy, which incidentally, also no longer featured the key member Deal, who had to move on to pursue solo projects. The remaining original three soldiered on with Paz Lenchantin (of A Perfect Circle, Zwan, and Queens of the Stone Age) as Deal’s worthy replacement.
On September 30, 2016, the reinvigorated Pixies released its second album since its return to the recording studio. Titled Head Carrier, the album happily delivers the beloved trademark sound of Pixies. It opens with the big, grating guitar sound of the title track, which sorts of reminds the listener what Pixies’ music was really about. The ensuing “Classic Masher” will make the initiated feel as if being transported to the good ol’ heyday of early ’90s, the humble beginning of Alternative Rock music as how it became to be recognize – a well-balanced diet of sugary-sweet melody and sour and bitter dissonance; Santiago’s cyclical guitar antics are well-felt.
The ensuing “Baal’s Back” is a reinforcement of Black’s angry vocal attack, complemented by the ominous guitars, steady bass, and powerful beat of Lovering’s pounding. Structurally, “Might as Well Be Gone” may be regarded as a sequel, or, at the least, a close sonic kin of Pixies’ classic loud-quiet song “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” On the other hand, “Oona” initially sounds like “Gigantic” until it betrays some sonic references to the beloved “Here Comes Your Man” – genius! And then there is the breakneck speed of “Talent,” which also has traces of Black’s Punk-rooted styling in his solo endeavors.
“Tenement Song” slows down the mood for a bit, incorporating hints of Alternative Country, yet still carrying the guitar angst Pixies’ music has also been known for. “Bel Spirit” is definitely a throwback to the majestic sound of ’90s Alternative Rock; it will remind the listener of a handful of equally memorable guitar-oriented bands of the era, the likes of Sloan (“Underwhelmed”), The Posies (“Dream All the Day”), Sugar (“If I Can’t Change Your Mind”), and Belly (“Feed the Tree”). Pixies yet again shows its twisted romantic side with the female-sung slow ballad “All I Think about Now,” sounding as if Deal never left the band.
Then there is the Cowpunk sound of “Um Chagga Lagga,” which seems like a hark to the likes of Dead Kennedys (“Holiday in Cambodia”), The Vandals (“Urban Struggle”), and even The Cramps (“Goo Goo Muck”). The penultimate track, “Plaster of Paris” catches, again, Pixies in its poppiest moment, courtesy of the juxtapositional blend of shiny, melodic guitar adlibs and crunchy rhythm strums and half-sung, half-spoken vocal approach. Finally, Head Carrier closes with the playful, yet dramatic, mid-tempo sway of “All the Saints.”
With its latest offering, Pixies is definitely back in its best form. The band obviously never lost its collective flair for the sound that became its trademark and significant contribution to the Alternative Rock world. Head Carrier sounds as if Pixies never left at all. CrypticRock gives it 5 out of 5 stars.