A not-so-calculated comeback that fires on all cylinders
The Pixies are forever ingrained in pop culture – from every drunk David Fincher fan singing “Where Is My Mind” at a house party to that scene in The O.C.’s second season when a drunk divorcee goes on a bender and “Debaser” tears through the background – their lore is inescapable. Newest album Head Carrier (Pixiesmusic/Play It Again Sam) was intended “for a listener to be able to remove themselves from the narratives that they might have in their head about the band.” Or so lead vocalist Black Francis says, while in an earlier breath admitting that the album had “a bit of early-Pixies slosh.” Head Carrier combines power pop-hooks, steely surf, ’90s alternative and at times, folk and surrealist fantasy.
Head Carrier is the band’s first album since 2014 when they reunited and released previous effort Indie Cindy. This release also sees the official addition and welcoming of bassist Paz Lenchantin, who may not be the Kims of yore but definitely maintains a presence through the album that can be latently admired and eventually appreciated. The Pixies are notorious for stumbling into greatness from a combination of chance, a laissez-faire approach and the innate ability to make deep thoughts nonsensical and conversely giving meaning to nonsense. They’re like the high school slacker who stumbles into astrophysics.
Head Carrier begins with aptly titled track “Head Carrier,” a climber that begins heavy, distorted and bright. It’s easily a theme song, utilizing low and sprawling verses paired with a bombastic chorus in true Pixies fashion. “Oona” is smooth and captures an infallible, irresistible beat; a stand out from the album. As Black Francis breathes “Oonaaaaa I will await destruction!” in a slightly nasally croon, urgently pleading “Please, I wanna ba in your band,” before steely guitars jangle through a metallic solo while distorted rhythm guitar and clicky percussion takes care of your hips for you. “Talent” is quixotic and quirky, a song that could easily be the grandfather to any Strokes track from the early 2000s.
“Tenement Song” channels R.E.M. and Michael Stipe in particuar with some Gin Blossoms thrown in. Take comparisons to other late ’80s period acts with a grain of salt if you will, but the parallels are there and they’re wonderful – it shows the true longevity involved in this corner of music evolution. “Tenement Song” sounds like a lonely Western and then suddenly everything gets Irish – there’s chanting, a latent folk vibe and this inescapable fermented slosh – joining “Oona” on the standout list. “All I Think About” opens with a clear riff that is unmistakably an homage to “Where Is My Mind,” penned in particular as an appreciation of the past, with lyrics that are poignant and directed as a tribute to former bassist Kim Deal. “I remember we were happy; that’s all I think about now / if you have any doubt, I wanna thank you anyhow.”
“Um Chagga Lagga” is an insensible, rockabilly infused tune, released as the single and serving effectively as the ‘comeback’ announcement much in a parallel to “Bagboy,” released in back 2013. Head Carrier ends with Lenchantin and Francis harmonizing in the endearingly listless closer “All The Saints,” a waltzy, twangy track that builds and tapers in an elongated wave, and lends a feeling not unlike falling asleep in the Sun. The Pixies seem to be unable to do wrong or right, but they sure as hell always do The Pixies.