The Pixies, like every seminal band that broke up and then reformed, has a Herculean challenge they constantly face. How can they contradict the idea that to preserve all that is great about the band’s influential prior discography, they have to refrain from making any new music? The Pixies have been attempting to stare down this idea over their last two releases, Indie Cindy and Head Carrier. On September 13th they release their latest treatise Beneath the Eyrie attempting to once again attack this dilemma. The band in order to accomplish this task frequently returned to old inspirations and reinvigorates the form they founded. Beneath the Eyrie utilizes a wide range of topics; Medieval Fairy Tales, witches, misfits and Biblical references all of which were frequent touchstones for subject matter in the first incarnation of the band.
Beneath The Eyrie was recorded in Woodstock, NY under the ministrations of returning Grammy Award-winning producer Tom Dalgety. On this new recording original band members, Black Francis, David Lovering and Joey Santiago along with third release veteran Paz Lenchantin evince more confidence and seem unafraid to take risks. Their ultimate risk seems to be allowing themselves to return to what made them so unique in the first place. Often times where Indie Cindy and Head Carrier seemed a bit lost on how to replace the band’s founding bassist Kim Deal, they now seem to have acknowledged the loss and moved on from their original band line up. Lenchantin, in particular, sounds like she has adapted to her part in the band moving beyond the past ghosts. Throughout Beneath the Eyrie, she displays unbounded moxie as she embodies the integral foil Francis needs, allowing The Pixies to soar.
Beneath the Eyrie has a pervading feeling of darkness as the subject matter delves into love, loss and death. Much of this vibe draws from situations in the band members recent lives. That darkness has always been the gooey core in the best Pixies works, what is refreshing is the return to original inspirations and making them seem new. There is no better example than In the Arms of Mrs Mark of Cain which is a cacophonous welcome back for long term fans. This goosebump-inducing first track folds time combining past with the present and is pure Pixies sonic alchemy. Included are gorgeous drums, swirling guitars. The lyric “Hollywood is always the same, but it is always so good so I stay” feeds into Francis’ jaded take on giving in to temptation. The first single Graveyard Hill is best described as toe-tapping anarchy. This ballsy examination of the witch hunters ending up the hunted is spectacular and once again long-time fans will find much to love. There is a sense of immense energy and release on this track.
Catfish Kate is a whimsical fairy tale with an explosive opening. There is a thrill in hearing the duelling vocals, discordant guitars and quiet, loud, quiet phrasing that made Pixies such a seminal band. The tale that is told displays the master at his canvas weaving a fable about a girl taken to the depths by a fish. The song is reminiscent of the outlandish tales that exist throughout the Pixies works.
This is My Fate is punchy rockabilly with a luminously heavy bass. The lyrics keep this quirky track from becoming pastiche as it looks to explain fate with religious allusions. Silver Bullet displays a narrative from the werewolf/gunslinger’s viewpoint with images of isolation and a spaghetti western showdown interspersed. Initially, the sonics are low key but build into an explosion of rock goodness ending in a flourish.
Long Rider contains sonics that are delightfully recognizable as classic Pixies. This song falls somewhere between a selection from Doolittle and Bossanova but does not feel reheated or hackney. It is catchy as hell and all by itself justifies the latest manifestation of The Pixies. It is everything good about the Pixies and is prima facie evidence for they all they have added to the quality of Rock and Roll.
The track title Los Surfers Muertos translated from Spanish is the dead surfer, so there is no surprise it is a dark offering. It was inspired by the death of Paz’s friend in a surfing accident. The drum work on this selection buoys my long-held belief that David Lovering is an underappreciated drummer. Additionally, Joey Santiago provides his own special proprietary guitar work to put the final brilliant touches on this “Do Not Miss” track.
Where Los Surfers Muertos is a trip through a dark canyon, St Nazaire provides contrast as a blazing rocker. The track is loaded with grit and punk ethos harkening to the sonic attacks found on Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa. Bird of Prey combines a cheery Pop/Rockabilly stance with once again the Pixies singular take on both theme and sonics. The track underlines The Pixies love of messing with a concept blending light and dark, Punk with the Gothic and coming out with another selection for the win column. This is continued on Daniel Boone where soaring guitars provide a dreamscape to ponder the surrounding wildlife and predicting when the space ships will arrive to take us to new planets to discover. Dipping into their necromancer abilities the band manages to make those disparate parts function as a brilliant whole.
The final track, Death Horizon is laden with Francis’ patented black humour. An acoustic guitar accompaniment supports Francis as he free verses about the breakup of a couple and the inevitability of the grim reaper. This final rumination on fate perfectly punctuates the potency of the release.
Beneath the Eyrie bears witness to the wisdom of The Pixies reforming. Long-time fans will find comfort in the Pixies easily identifiable trademarks. The release also allows the uninitiated a chance to see what all the initial fuss was about. Where the band on the last two releases seemed to shy away from their trailblazing quiet, loud, quiet sonics, discordant rhythms and duelling vocals, on Beneath the Eyrie they embrace them. Throughout the recording they polish these techniques providing an engaging and thrilling release. It seems as if the band has finally realized that when you are a pioneer you don’t need to apologize for doing what you do best, a situation of it is “best not to meddle with success”. The Pixies are always at their best when they don’t give a toss what others think. It quickly becomes apparent on Beneath the Eyrie they are making these tracks to suit themselves. When they are in that mind frame they produce unforgettable moments. The Pixies with this record release another brilliant addition to their storied discography.