A Mixed Reaction to Public Hobby Writing: Pixies Return from Outerspace with Terrestrial New LP

by Mike Feurstein

pixies-classic90sThe Pixies were a band that patrolled the sea, playfully explored western deserts, and pined to perform across the reaches of outer space, from distant stars to this here bar, on a motorway to Roswell and into the white. Through the late ’80s and early ’90s, they watched the skies for metallic manta rays. They sang elfishly about oddities of life on Earth in loud quiet sexual hymns decorated with mystical surf punk motifs. They dreamed of being whisked away to Navajo dreamtime or the lost city of Atlantis or the Martian Olympus Mons.

In 1993 it happened, via fax: physical presence of the Pixies disappeared from the music scene, its members abducted by solo careers and vanished into the cosmic glitter of light-speed departure. Their music remained as echoes, influencing bands like Nirvana and Radiohead, with Pixies riffs still in the corners of emerging grunge and in the background of late punk or confused emo.

Body doubles stayed behind on Earth so as not to arouse suspicion of their new intergalactic journey: Black Francis lookalike Frank Black performed with the Catholics. Kim Deal joined her twin sister—either that or there was a mix-up with the alien bodysnatchers and really it was two Kim Deals made to fill the massive void left by Pixie Kim, and the pair continued the extraterrestrial smokescreen with band name The Breeders, to throw us off the scent. Santiago’s guitar ghosted on television soundtracks and a few Frank Black albums—keeping the circle knit closely. Lovering kept up appearances by drumming with Cracker and Tonya Donnelly, but he couldn’t stray far from natural Pixies-esque fascination with the supernatural and made appearances as a scientific phenomenalist—perhaps trying to channel the spacecraft that had taken away our dear Pixies in ’93.

Whether it was Lovering’s science magic, or Santiago’s sonic plow, or the bifurcated Deal, or the plain-sight Black, in 2004 the Pixies returned from the multiverse. I finally saw them at Coachella in the flats of Inland Empire’s polo grounds of Indio: appropriately a desert laid under the constellations they’d traipsed since departing Earth nearly 11 years prior. All the Pixies were onstage together, smiling, chatting, and quipping a friendly nostalgia that served more as revelation than reveling. The surf punk heroes I’d only known about through their left-behind records and oral histories were live before me. Many of us were interested though: where had they gone? What did they learn while out surfing on comet dust and slaloming asteroid fields at Kuiper?

The answer came years later as a sudden and unannounced series of EPs, and the shattering of the Pixies four piece in, yes, another modern technological delivery system akin to the fax: Twitter and the blogs. After a series of false starts trying to get new music out there, it was announced that Kim Deal had finally left the band, and the remainders were shopping for a replacement. Not only that, but the new music that was released suggested something may have gone awry in the time the Pixies had taken their 11-year journey through the cosmos.

A full report of these absent adventures comes in the form of Indie Cindy, the band’s first true LP since 1991’s Trompe Le Monde. They had released the odd song or two in the years leading up to this gift. “Bam Thwok” was a space jam written by Deal based on a child’s art book she had found on the streets of New York. It was an ultimately rejected submission for Shrek 2’s opening titles (the slot on the soundtrack went instead to the Counting Crows’ “Accidentally in Love.”) After this, they contributed to a Warren Zevon tribute album, and added to their live sets a modified cover of the traditional “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” In all of the above, Deal was a major presence, and the songs reminded us of the mischievous spirit of their namesake. It would be years until a true first single was released, as “Bagboy.”

The surprise release of “Bagboy,” prior to any sense that there would be a series of EPs collected as an LP, was exciting. But then the subversion began: those Kim Deal callouts in the chorus? Not Kim. It was Jeremy Dubs who stood in to be the Kim Deal of the Pixies sound (he was later replaced by Kim Shattuck for the live shows, who also didn’t stay on long before being replaced by Paz Lenchantin for the 2014 tour) and got one over on us. But it also detracted from the enchanted playful pixie-ness of the Pixies. Both Dubs and Shattuck provided the breathy, string-like cooing that Deal cemented into songs like “Where is My Mind?” and “Silver,” but that didn’t replace a certain perspective Deal brought to the band. So we lost her wry-smiled singing, and with it possibly went Black’s creative, enthusiastic lyrics, and everything else. Black has since said Lenchantin’s presence has become staple, and he sees great things in future recordings. But let’s not time travel just yet.

The EPs that followed “Bagboy” have been collected into the Indie Cindy LP, which contains pleas like “be in love with me/ I beg for you to carry me” from the title track, and seems to ask if we remember them, or more importantly, if we still accept them as our old friends the Pixies. Other times they relish the fact that they’ve been gone so long and unabashedly tackle again their muses of the sea and sky.

 

Pixies-BossanovaThe first track, “What Goes Boom,” is at first a modern Pixies soundalike, with lyrics that suggest it’s about the Pixies making music, but where are the quiet parts amid the loud? A true Pixies song contains wit, unorthodoxy and style. This song about songwriting is absent a vital muse. It’s reminiscent of early Toadies, and the structure fits into a mold someone may have created when abstracting the catalog of Pixies b-sides that came out around the Bossanova/Trompe Le Monde eras.

The instrumentation on “Greens and Blues” gets brighter, like breaking the surface of a turgid black sea that drowned the opening track. The melancholy lyrics empty into ocean references, with wet riffs swaying on the waves. Maybe it’s about a relationship with a mermaid, but with lyrics like “I’m wasting your time just talking to you/ Maybe best you go on home/ I’ll leave you alone, fade from your mind” it’s like a passive-aggressive love song to fans who have come once again to greet the Pixies at the shore, with Black hopeful we don’t let them slip away. Despite mixed feelings about this new music, I certainly hope they’re here for a few more rounds before any distances or depths take them again. Recent interviews indicate as much.

The title track, “Indie Cindy,” is built too similarly to the previous song’s style and therefore not surprising us or moving onward.  It suffers some of the repetition that marred lesser Bossanova tracks. This song belongs later on the LP. In fact, “Greens and Blues” would have benefited from being followed by “Bagboy,” which follows “Indie Cindy.”

On the heels of “Bagboy” we find another character story, “Magdalena 318,” which dips us back into dark strains like a space dream. So maybe a majority of the Pixies 11 year ride through the universe was cloaked in black distances. It’s a lazy song, which would be okay except for lazy lyrics: repeat title over and over again, add some Ohhh’s, and trail off at the end. “Silver Snail” comes up next, also a snoozy, repetitive mess with no arresting imagery or memorable moments. It seems to exist only to be “weird,” but it’s not. Like many on the LP, it’s predictable, in fact too “regular” by Pixies standards. Signature loud, quiet, loud these songs are not.

We crash land into “Blue Eyed Hexe” and some nice riffs that become tiresome by the end, where in the past they might have bridged into what seemed like a whole other song (see: “Sad Punk”). Another talk-shouted character story, Hexe’s weakest point is a chorus that just repeats the title over and over again. It happens often on this LP, more so than any other Pixies release. Its quality lies in the hopeful promise of songs like “Hexe” being a glimpse down the road at future work.

A Pixies-fan friend of mine asked sarcastically if “Ring the Bell” was a Coldplay cover song. Nuff said, because the next notable point on the album follows.

“Another Toe in the Ocean,” despite sounding a lot like Stranger Than Fiction-era Bad Religion, gives the album more flavor suggesting it as a true follow-up to Trompe Le Monde. It offers pleasantly familiar ocean themes, as well as creative movements and lyric placement. It belongs higher on the tracklist. Here is Black exploring motifs and arrangements familiar to him, while trying to find a new sound.

“Andro Queen” seems to be about a space robot that has gone away and left its human lover to pine for her return. In the meantime, the human replaces fleshy parts of himself with android bits so that upon her return they can be together. Neat! Some might claim the song falls short in its draggy crawl, but an album full of “Hexe’s” and “Bagboys” needs to slow down somewhere. Placed in a different spot on the tracklist, this song could shine.

“Snakes” sounds great but it’s another instance of banal lyrics. “Snakes are coming to your town/ in tunnels underground/ some traveling overground” – ‘Ground’ rhymes with ‘ground’, and they’re coming to our town? Not very compelling. The verses are a quarter the length of the elongated choruses, so it’s a bottom-heavy song relying on an extended riff dead center. An overhaul of its lyric structure could salvage it, as with a few others on this new LP. Case study: Trompe Le Monde’s “Subbacultcha” originally contained a repetitive and droning chorus that was removed for being “weak” (same happened for “I’m Amazed”) – leaving the song stripped-down, creative and unpredictable. Perhaps Indie Cindy needed some of that discerning editorial production before release?

The LP ends with yet another character story—six in all—“Jaime Bravo,” but the lyrics don’t capture any mythos around a character subject. Take Black’s previous uses of names as titles: “Allison,” about jazz pianist Mose Allison, contains similar uses of the sun as does “Bravo,” but celebrates the man with joyous spacey imagery. Or “Alec Eiffel,” which somehow manages to use the words “phallic” and “aerodynamics” in a punk song that also paid amusing respect to the man who engineered the Eiffel Tower. If “Jaime Bravo” is using any real Jaime Bravo as its inspiration (a quick Google search indicates it could be a matador, a real estate agent or a hair and makeup artist), it’s not evident in the Ooh Oohs and a riff like old Blink182.

My suggestion for listening to this new crop of songs would be to arrange them like so: 1 – Blue Eyed Hexe / 2 – Another Toe in the Ocean / 3 – Greens and Blues / 4 – Bagboy / 5 -Indie Cindy / 6 – Magdalena 318 / 7 – Snakes / 8 – Andro Queen.

So we are left to wonder: did the endless void of space swallow up our beloved Pixies and return mutated life forms to a planet that has moved on without them? As a loving fan I say no, and this album isn’t as bad as other fans might decree, but only if it means a first step toward a brand-new uniqueness, reminiscent of what set them apart decades back. Otherwise, they’re just cashing in on the name.

pixies-modern2014Long ago the Pixies took us across mystical landscapes and galaxies; alongside the characters and heroes they celebrated. What’s happened to those travelers? I’m not the same person that I was back then, either. My writing has changed. My outlook on the world has changed. The Pixies have been away, and it’s never easy coming back. Deal or no Deal, members of the Pixies are making music again. They’re not the same, and neither is the music. Even for a new band, Indie Cindy would disappoint in some areas. For the Pixies, it appends a stellar catalog. But there’s danger in comparisons made at either end of absence.

 

It took billions of years to forge the universe, just as it might take a while longer for the Pixies to recover as transient aliens on the arm of the Milky Way, to reform and stand in the gravity of a legacy they left behind and the new landscape to which they’ve just returned.

3 thoughts on “A Mixed Reaction to Public Hobby Writing: Pixies Return from Outerspace with Terrestrial New LP

  1. Awesome review. Great writing style. Will have to give this album a listen ASAP – and will do so in the order you recommend here.

    1. Thanks for reading, Josh K. I would be interested to know, from another Pixies fan, if my suggested arrangement, or any other arrangement, helps elevate the new material. Perhaps their next releases will improve on lyric and vision.

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