Pixies Return With Their Best Songs in Years on ‘Beneath the Eyrie’
One of the most influential rock bands of all time, Pixies have inspired various ‘90s alt bands, from Nirvana to Radiohead and beyond. Their early sound was characterized by Joey Santiago’s intricate, shimmering, Spanish-tinged guitars, Kim Deal’s thick, syrupy basslines, David Lovering’s aggressive drum pounding, and bizarre surrealist lyricism hurled via Black Francis’ erratic vocals, which were, in turn, matched by Deal’s shouts or saccharine crooning. After a split in the early ‘90s, the band embarked on various solo projects, which included Deal’s formation of the Breeders. Pixies eventually reformed in the mid 2000s, and embarked on an aggressive touring schedule. After Deal left the band in 2013, bassist Paz Lenchantin from A Perfect Circle joined as a touring bassist, prior to being welcomed as the band’s permanent bassist in 2016. Pixies also released two new albums after reuniting: “Indie Cindy” and “Head Carrier.” For their seventh album, they’ve managed to drum up a bit of their old flair, even chronicling the album creation process with a podcast. Francis isn’t exactly slicing up any eyeballs on this one, but there’s still a lot to love about, “Beneath the Eyrie.”
“Beneath the Eyrie” draws from a lot of influences. At times it sounds inspired by new wave, surf, rockabilly, and post punk. Santiago’s guitar work shines as he quickly shifts gears between angelic leads, shimmering textures and furious solos. There’s also a thread of storytelling that runs throughout the record that’s reminiscent of dark, folky drinking tunes or ghostly sea shanties. Francis sings about characters who wrestle for their lives with catfish on “Catfish Kate” or meet fateful ends at the hands of killer waves on “Los Surfers Muertos.” There are some songs that sound like quintessential Pixies tracks, employing the “loudquietloud” structure like on “Graveyard Hill” or “Long Rider.” Overall it’s a record that covers a lot of bases, but keeps things cohesive in terms of thematic imagery and quality songwriting.
The album opens with “In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain,” which culls sinister guitar chords and melodies into a dreamy, new wave inspired track with clopping percussion. Francis broods in a baritone, “I’m not proud, but I know that I’m sane / Like a grouse who’s resigned to the blade / If you doubt and you think I’m profane / I’m in the arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain.” Sweet melodies and choruses exist in stark comparison with the song’s darker textures and lyricism. “Graveyard Hill” is a classic Pixies song. The intro consists of smooth bass and crunchy guitar chords. Francis sings about the witching hour, curses, and graveyards. As the chorus swells, it’s hard not to feel a harkening back to classic Pixies, especially as Francis shouts in the backing vocals towards the latter half, “Her eyes are flying saucers and her hair is black and gorgeous.”
“Catfish Kate” features whispery and thin acoustic guitar with a low, thick bassline. The track is a folky song about a woman who wrestles with a catfish for her life. The guitars swell into a dreamy chorus, “Where is my angel fallen down at the river bottom and will she get away? / Where is my Blackfoot blossom is she just playing possum who lives another day?” It’s quickly followed by “This Is My Fate,” another folky, western-themed drinking dirge with meandering guitar leads. The folk atmosphere is enhanced by washboard auxiliary percussion fills.
“Ready for Love” features light guitar melodies, a guitar solo, and an alt rock chorus, “You might think I’m vain, but I’m calling your bluff. / I’m ready for love.” Guitars pick up velocity and tenacity by the end, but make you wish they were higher in the mix. Starting soft, folky, and melodic, “Silver Bullet” continues in the dark western theme with light cymbal splashes egging Francis’ vocals along, “The shade is drawn with stem and vine / Burned in the flame of a man condemned / With venom wine and golden dawn / A silver bullet in the chamber turning.” There are machine gun snare fills and massive, crunchy guitar chords and string bends as Francis sings about a metaphorical duel.
“Long Rider” is a more straightforward indie rock song featuring vocal harmonies and a build towards a giant chorus, “Long rider in the morning tide / She took the highway to the county line / She wiped out in the modern sense / Take it away now.” “Los Surfers Muertos” is a dark, mysterious surfy tune written by both Lenchantin and Francis about a killer wave and the fateful end of a surfer. “St. Nazaire” also features surf-drenched guitar chords and riffs. The needling leads and walking bass make it almost sound like a rockabilly song. Francis delivers his throatiest guttural growl, “I drank a bottle and afuck me prayer / Down at the rocks at Saint Nazaire / Her daddy’s dead and her eyes are black / I washed out never going back.” There’s also a whammy bar wipe out at the end to cap it all off.
“Birds of Prey” exhibits high-pitched vocals, “little birdy” is sung in such a way that it doubles the guitar leads. It’s a little bit upbeat, with a percussive acoustic guitar, with dark verses, “I’ll set my broken bone / You’ve stolen my tomorrow / So I come for it today / You stole it when you stole my yesterday.” “Daniel Boone,” by comparison, is a soft, and dreamy ballad with humming, forlorn chords and lightly plucked strings. Francis delivers a pretty straightforward vocal with surreal imagery “I floated toward the moon and I noted from on high / That the Lord Howe reef looks like Daniel Boone and he was showing me his smile,” as the song builds towards a delay drenched, feedback heavy solo and final chorus. The last note echoes for another 30 seconds or so, presumably floating towards the moon as well.
“Death Horizon” closes the record. It’s mostly an acoustic guitar and vocal focused song, but there are some leads, harmonies, and light drumming as Francis sings about drinking and mortality, “Have you seen the death horizon / Just there out of view / Way low in the sky beyond the sea? / And I can feel that the temperature’s rising / But what can you do? / ‘Cause that death horizon gonna burn you right through.” It’s a pleasantly dark, and upbeat tune to end the record on.
Overall, the album incorporates familiar, nautical-tinged folktales and mysterious, ghastly imagery. It pairs well with punky, surfy, or western-tinged indie aesthetics, sometimes taking folky detours or slowing things to a balladic pace. It might be unfair to compare Pixies to their decades-old back catalog, but when you hear the familiar loudquietloud, it’s hard not to get excited and feel like they never left. When the choruses hit on songs like “Graveyard Hill,” or “Long Rider,” for instance, they almost feel like they wouldn’t be out of place nestled between tracks on “Bossa Nova.” That being said, the songs are all unique, taking their own shape regardless of the band’s previous sound and history. Best of all, it sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. “Beneath the Eyrie” is certainly the best of the Pixies’ comeback records, and manages to come off as a refreshing release in its own right.
“Beneath the Eyrie” is available Sep. 12 on Apple Music.