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Back from the Planet of Sound

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Not many bands can claim to have an unblemished legacy. Some struggle right out of the gate due to inexperience and youth; others get so caught up on internal conflict that they end up releasing records that are a musical mess; and numerous long-standing acts, while retaining unquestionable live skills, either run out of creativity on the studio, or make bad decisions as to which direction to go with their sound. In the midst of all shame and disgrace, remarkable groups that stuck around for a little while are the ones that, while not possessing a discography that is extensive, have not published lackluster works.

If you discount "Squeeze", Doug Yule's shameful attempt to use The Velvet Underground brand when none of the original and vital members remained, the velvets' seven-year run of four acclaimed records could be considered as one of rock's flawless legacies. The fact that two of the remaining three band-mates have embarked on successful solo careers adds a layer of protection around what the band did on the past, as it seems unlikely the money-hungry virus will attack Reed and Cale's bodies and send them on a world tour under a name that should not be used any longer.


Until a few years ago, the Pixies was another band that could claim to own such a distinction. Their five works, if their debut EP "Come On Pilgrim" is included, shaped alternative rock as the 80s ended and the 90s began, and the dynamics of their sound inspired a whole bunch of bands that turned rock music upside down on the heels of Francis' screams. Though their comeback initially consisted exclusively of shows, something that did nothing to harm the consistency of their published records, in September 2013, the band has chosen to release a brand new EP. While some fans celebrated, others felt their stomaches twist over the prospect of how a new EP could put a small dent on what the band built two decades ago.

Those worries can be put to rest. "EP1" is not groundbreaking, but not every piece of music needs that quality to be great, and that is exactly what its four songs are: great. "Andro Queen" sounds like a beautiful awkward ballad captured floating in outer space; and "Another Toe" is as muscular as a modern rock song can be. The two other numbers on the record are archetypal Pixies songs. "Indie Cindy" has a weird, nearly offensive, sense of humor, and it alternates between beautiful soothingness and wild rants; and "What Goes Boom" presents a screaming Frank Black - though without the same intensity found in Doolittle's "Tame" - and Joey Santiago's unique guitar playing, threading between beautifully melodic and dirtily distorted.


Its quality aside, the ultimate question that "EP1" begs is far bigger than its twenty-minute length. Where should the line be drawn between Black Francis' work and this new wave of Pixies music? Twenty two years after "Trompe le Monde", it is unreasonable to expect the band to sound exactly like they used to. The world has changed, and so have Francis Black, Joey Santiago, David Lovering, and the unfortunately absent Kim Deal. At the same time, even if "Andro Queen" sounds like a continuation of the space rock vibe found in both "Bossanova" and "Trompe le Monde" - just a little bit more intense - it is impossible to shake the feeling that both it and "Another Toe" are nothing but songs from Francis' solo career re-purposed as Pixies numbers.

As a relatively short sample, "EP1" can be rightfully accused of being half-Pixies, as only two if its songs can be unknowingly identified as belonging to the band. However, just like the recently released single "Bagboy", both "Indie Cindy" and "What Goes Boom" go on to show that, more than twenty years later, the future can still be bright for the group. And in spite of the huge loss that Deal's departure is, Francis, Santiago and Lovering can rebuild the band's identity with good songwriting, as new Pixies-like ideas will surely come up as they spend more time together.