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.