photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
bands are weird.
its interesting that a band renowned for creating such INTIMATE and VITAL music with seemingly unbounded emotional resonance themselves are so DYSFUNCTIONAL and UNCOMMUNICATIVE with each other. the "loud, quite, loud" within the tile LOUDQUIETLOUD: A FILM ABOUT THE PIXIES (STICK FIGURE, 2006) is a reference to the songwriting formula seminal BOSTON INDIE ROCK band the PIXIES are celebrated and credited with popularizing (quiet verses and loud choruses), but it may also be an apt description of the inter-relational dynamism of the band as a touring unit (quiet off-stage, loud onstage).
the film itself documents their 2004 reunion tour. much had happened since their 1993 split, chief among them the rise and fall of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK movement which included numerous acolytes, most famously NIRVANA. PIXIES bassist KIM DEAL was able to find critical and commercial success with THE BREEDERS, a project she co-wrote with her twin sister KELLEY, but for the most part all of the other members lived and worked in the shadow of their former group. this includes frontman and main songwriter CHARLES THOMPSON IV (a.k.a BLACK FRANCIS, FRANK BLACK). so the reason for the reunion was pretty much all about money. guitarist JOEY SANTIAGO had a young family at the time and drummer DAVID LOVERING was doing magic tricks (seriously!) to get by for years prior as the royalty and publishing checks dwindled with the rise in online piracy and the collapse of the recording industry. its not surprising and its not disappointing, but it is undoubtedly beyond CLICHE that the PIXIES got back together for financial reasons. i guess i just held their art so much higher than that but these are actual people with real bills to pay. i imagine such is also the motivation and reason for this documentary itself. a film about a band that is OBLIQUE and MYSTERIOUS, even amongst themselves.
but it worked. they charged through births, deaths and even a relapse during their touring cycle. and it lasted nearly another 10 years until KIM DEAL quit before their next release INDIE CINDY (PIAS, 2014). it seems telling that while on tour, three of the four members were working on outside projects. just an interesting visual juxtaposition of sold-out shows enthusiastic crowds with solitary writing sessions alone in hotel rooms and tour buses. my reaction to this film is just confusion about how a band with such obvious preternatural connection onstage is so casually DISCONNECTED offstage. i dont know why that is difficult to comprehend but it is. its too bad the effort wasnt met with an album that included DEAL's haunted vocals which to me are a key ingredient of their sound, period.
interesting film worth checking out if you are a fan of the PIXIES or INDIE and ALTERNATIVE ROCK in general.
photo & text by nacrowe
SURFER ROSA (4AD, 1988) by PIXIES is one of those landmark albums that is almost MYTHICAL in how seemingly foundational and elemental it remains to this day in the sound and appearance of modern-day INDIE ROCK writ large. it should also be pointed out that its allure is wholly separate from the force-multiplier that the later NIRVANA-led 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK revolution and global youth culture phenomenon that subsequently grafted itself onto its legacy.
whats always been compelling about SURFER ROSA sonically is its ingenious and subtle use of DYNAMICS. in the years since its release the received formula has been dumbed-down to a mantra of "soft verse, loud chorus" but such a rote description doesnt really do justice to the sense of EMOTIONAL CATHARTHIS that comes across in HAUNTED classics like "GIGANTIC," "BREAK MY BODY," "RIVER EUPHRATES," "BONE MACHINE," "CACTUS" and especially "WHERE IS MY MIND?" it could be said that the sound of the band is as much about the LAYERED vocal interplay between BLACK FRANCIS and bassist KIM DEAL as it is the weaving, ANGULAR guitar work of FRANCIS and JOEY SANTIAGO. in my mind those two dynamics are constantly orbiting around each other like two pulsating neutron stars. a shift in the dynamic of one pair affects the other. on a purely aural level, experiencing those two dynamics is UNIQUE and consistently surprising.
it should also be stated that the IMPRESSIONISTIC and DADA-esque OPAQUENESS of the PIXIES' lyrical content is the other highlight of this record as well as their catalogue in general. i couldnt tell you what SURFER ROSA is about or what the explicit intentions were of BLACK FRANCIS when he wrote lyrics to "BONE MACHINE," "WHERE IS MY MIND?" or "BREAK MY BODY," but on a VISCERAL and purely EMOTIONAL level i understand these songs. for me their emotional resonance is not sullied by their direct meaning and instead act as markers to guide us through the EXTREME DYNAMICS of the music itself. i think this is important because when i likewise listen to lyrical bent of other bands like RADIOHEAD, TOOL, MODEST MOUSE, NIRVANA or even OASIS there is a sense that the lead singer is functioning as another instrument rather than the conveyor of words and meaning. i dont believe that the PIXIES invented such but to my ears SURFER ROSA is undoubtedly a high watermark of said approach.
SURFER ROSA is required listening in my opinion. it is definitely worthy of further investigation and should be a compelling listen to anyone familiar with 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK and 2000s INDIE ROCK from which this record in particular has had definite lasting impact. enjoy.