The Pixies have officially re-arrived. The legendary alternative rock band has finally made a comeback worthy of their iconic status. The band’s latest release, Head Carrier, which dropped on Sept. 30, is a nod to the Pixies’ past, with a conscious acknowledgement of the present. Without founding bassist Kim Deal in the mix, the band has finally come to terms with who they are now, and where they need to go musically. Head Carrier lacks some of the originality and fire the band is known for, but it does have the confidence and self-assured cohesion that 2014’s transitional album, Indie Cindy, lacked.
The group’s ego suffered a major hit after the release of Indie Cindy. Fans’ expectations for the group’s imminent return began mounting during the 10-year hiatus they took between the 1991 drop of their album Trompe le Monde and the shocking release of their 2014 comeback. Indie Cindy tried too hard to recapture the raw, ragged and youthful energy the group is known for. The album ended up being overstated and anti-climactic. Head Carrier is proof that the Pixies have learned from their mistakes.
The Pixies are an alternative rock band founded in 1986 in Boston. Lyricist and lead vocalist Black Francis and guitarist Joey Santiago met while studying at UMass Amherst, and they recruited Kim Deal, one of the preeminent female bassists in the rock genre, and put David Lovering on drums. The Pixies became known for their unique marriage of psychedelic jams and punk rock, with noticeable influences from the surfer rock and noise-pop genres that dominated the times. With more visible success on the U.K. charts than in the U.S., the magnitude of the Pixies’ influence on the grunge movement of the ’90s is not blatantly obvious.
Groups like Nirvana, Radiohead, Weezer, and Blur all cite the Pixies as having a great influence on their careers, as the band practically revolutionized the role that dynamics and genre-blending played in alternative rock music. They thrive on their oddball energy, and have a unique ability to transport the listener to a state of dreaminess, while still remaining in the rock genre.
And on this album, there is very little in the way of audio production. Instead, the band aims for a raw, live concert sound. Head Carrier maintains the use of dynamics the Pixies are known for. Starting and stopping, loud and soft, and clarity and mystery are all characteristic of the group and the album. The gentle guitar riffs, accompanied by Paz’s light whispering background vocals, offset the thumping backbeat and loud frenzy that defines Black Francis.
It is fairly obvious that the band is taking a look back in time at its previous repertoire as inspiration for Head Carrier. This record is more influenced by surf rock than the Pixies’ other albums. There is a much calmer vibe overall, with the exception of a few songs. The album has a very similar sound to arguably their most famous album—1988’s Surfer Rosa. The song “Um Chagga Lagga” resembles the songs “Oh My Golly” and “Isla de Encanta,” while Head Carrier’s “Oona” could have been a song from their 1989 album Doolittle. Although the similarities are obvious, there are a few standout songs every Pixies fan will be blasting.
“Talent” is the most energetic track on the album, showcasing quiet, reserved verses bookended by an explosive chorus. “All I Think About Now” is essentially Lenchantin’s chance to reinvent the 1988 hit track “Where Is My Mind?” used in David Fincher’s film Fight Club. The bassline and vocals are incredibly similar, down to the moaning oohhhs. “All I Think About Now” is getting publicity because of the lyrics, which seem to be an apology from the band to former bassist Deal.
Head Carrier has a lot to offer listeners. It won’t disappoint even the most dedicated Pixies fans, but its memorability remains to be seen. There is an immense pressure and standard that comes with being as influential a band as the Pixies. Gary Smith, the producer and mastermind behind Nirvana’s Nevermind and the Pixies’ Come on Pilgrim, famously said, “I’ve heard it said about the Velvet Underground that while not a lot of people bought their albums, everyone who did started a band. I think this is largely true of the Pixies as well.” Head Carrier may just be the album to make you pick up a guitar.
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