. issue XI : xiii .
. artist : the pixies .
. album: ep-1 .
. year : 2013 .
. label : self-released .
. grade : c minus .
Nine years after reuniting, the Pixies have released their first non-single: EP-1. They have somehow dodged the hype machines and completely blindsided fans with new-material darts being thrown directly at their unsuspecting faces. Is there any hope for the newly Kim Deal-less band to stand on its own?
It’s immediately apparent that this is the Pixies Mach II, and that means sanding down the rough edges and alien affectations. Forgive the obvious joke, but the band is a little too “Tame.” A few hallmarks of their sound are missing or melting fast like ice cream in a furnace: first and foremost, the intense weirdness and soul. While the four songs presented here are definitely odd, something about them is predictable, overproduced, and full of blinding polish, there’s nothing wrong with a band stumbling back after twenty years with some maturity and an ambition for a hit, but it honestly hurts their long-term credibility.
At least its not Dad-Rock.
“Andro Queen” starts the album in a fairly reserved, stargazing manner. The space-age atmosphere continues from the last two Pixies albums, but with the songwriting approach a little more straightforward. Eighth-note bass lines underline resounding major chords, reverbed singing, and a plodding bass drum beat. The band, unfortunately, sounds like hired studio professionals staring at the clock, waiting for their lunch break with exhausted eyes. The only saving grace is the first half of the melody, which then goes straight to nowhere. It’s not a terrible song, but it’s also not terribly memorable.
Next up on the bloody chopping block: “Another Toe.” At this point, Black Francis is trying to write something shiny. Dialing back the wide-open sound of the first song, the guitars start chugging and the vocals get radio-friendly. Some of the vocal layering with what might be auto-tuned falsetto leads to an extremely glossy yet inhuman vocal sound. While this takes some personality out of the song, it also adds an extremely odd, slightly spacey sheen. The melodies are serviceable and a little entertaining, but they are choking on the carcinogenic smoke of studio effects. The only musical highlights are when Joey Santiago and Frank Black’s interlocking guitars go back and forth between the mindlessly thick mush to lead-guitar, heavily sci-fi elation.
Then comes the horribly named “Indie Cindy,” a song they absolutely needed to write to make this EP not fall flat. It is constructed like something off of Bossanova, combined with touches of the Fall for the verses. The song is surprising upon first listen, with twisting lead guitar lines that darkly explode after a mellow, surfy intro. Francis enters soon after, detached and shouty, with some unique, quotable lyrics. Many goofy standout lines burn right into your brain cave, like “I am the Bürgermeister of purgatory.” The chorus actually sticks in this one, even though it might be a touch too light and full of heart for the hardcore fans. At the very least, “Indie Cindy” makes an attempt to marry some strangeness to their newfound respect for smartphone commercial jingles.
The last song is barely worth mentioning, except that it’s aggressive and reminds me of my least favorite aspect of the Pixies’ sound: the grungy metallicism of their later period. While sometimes this worked in their heyday, here it is belabored and unconvincing. It doesn’t help that there isn’t much in terms of content, with some tiring minor key vocals that never seem to switch phrasing or tone quickly enough to hold the listener’s interest. The chorus works as a bittersweet conclusion to the brief song cycle, but its a little too little too late. Why stick something decent on a pile of sweaty flailing?
Some fans might see this EP as unforgivable, but I’m willing to cut them some slack. The Pixies should have come stronger out of the gate, but maybe they need a period of dusting off the cobwebs and Kim Deal’s departure before they truly get back into the business of being themselves? Black Francis may be going through the motions, but he has a pretty firm grasp on tension and release with his melodies throughout. Santiago barely gets any chances to shine, but there are a few tortured notes here and there that always add a welcome reprieve from the neatly folded warm blanket edges. The bass player is definitely not Deal. David Lovering is just kinda there, though he gets a little to work with on the second two songs.
Ultimately, The Pixies sound too faceless here, with an approach that relies too heavily on the studio for personality. Where is the unpredictability? Where are the atonal, shrieking guitar squalls? Where are the consistently hilarious academic turns of phrase? Where’s Kim Deal? These are questions that need no answer, but they still need to be asked.
The Pixies can do better than this. There are pieces here that point towards a glowing resurrection of a beloved band, but there are also pieces that point toward a propped-up mechanical bastardization of something that was once great.
I want to believe that these aliens will stop trying to come back to earth and head out into space to entertain us from where they belong.
by Ryan Myers