Pixies

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Come On Pilgrim

Pixies - Come On Pilgrim ©1987 4AD/Reprise
1. Caribou
2. Vamos
3. Isla De Encanta
4. Ed Is Dead
5. The Holiday Song
6. Nimrod's Son
7. I've Been Tired
8. Levitate Me

Every so often a band debuts that makes the world ask, "Where on earth did these guys come from?" Case in point is the Pixies, which in retrospect has turned out to be one of the most influential acts to emerge in the 80s, especially when viewed from a late 90s perspective. Charles Thompson, a.k.a. Black Francis (and of course "Frank Black" now), led this band from college rock obscurity to noteriety with his unique approach to rock songwriting that was not new wave, punk, metal or conventional rock. The Pixies probably accidentally created their sound with typical naive enthusiasm. Black Francis is just your basic guitar player, but with a keen sense of rhythm and creativity. Lead guitarist Joey Santiago is simply amazing, grafting the perfect solo for the song each and every time. The rhythm section of Kim Deal and David Lovering does the job precisely and without any frills, but that's often precisely what the music calls for. As for the songs, they do seem a bit unfettered with outside expectations and thus come off as honest. Black Francis sings and screams in both English and Spanish. Needless to say there have been few vocalists with his particular sound, if any. His high wavering voice fits the crooning of "Caribou" well. The most important reason to get Come On Pilgrim is the narrative of "I've Been Tired", which is still my favorite Pixies song to this day.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/1999

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Surfer Rosa

Pixies - Surfer Rosa ©1988 4AD/Elektra
1. Bone Machine
2. Break My Body
3. Something Against You
4. Broken Face
5. Gigantic
6. River Euphrates
7. Where Is My Mind?
8. Cactus
9. Tony's Theme
10. Oh My Golly!
11. Vamos
12. I'm Amazed
13. Brick Is Red

By the time the Pixies recorded their second album - which was another short piece - the band had fully jumped headfirst into an eclectic and unexpected left hand path of jangled guitar rock gone fully insane. Uncredited in the liner notes, the infamous, Steve Albini recorded Surfer Rosa and gave the album a sonic boost, especially in comparison to the flatter Come On Pilgrim. The band simply goes utterly nuts throughout this record. Black Francis' voice is everywhere, from soft light little melodies to spastically shrieking his big head off. The most peculiar thing about his singing and the band's music is that even though he might be going entirely nuts with his scary vocal outputs, the song was still as catchy as hell. Surfer Rosa is nothing more than insanity captured on tape to a collection of wacked out, yet addictive guitar tricks.

From the outset of "Bone Machine", which obstensibly is a pretty straightforward song, you know things are just a bit off kilter here. "I was talking to preachy-preach about kissy-kiss/he bought me a soda/and tried to molest me in the parking lot." From there the album just gets weird. "Broken Face" is a raucous number, "River Euphrates" is catchy in that scary sort of way the Pixies had, while "Oh My Golly!" uses Spanish as the language of choice for lyrics. Occasionally the band would sneak in a highly profound number, such as the somber theme of "Where is My Mind?". Though occasionally obtuse enough to be a bit of a sharp listen, Surfer Rosa stands monumental in the late 80s modern rock world as one of the most refreshing and invigorating releases of that era.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2000

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Doolittle

Pixies - Doolittle ©1989 4AD/Elektra
1. Debaser
2. Tame
3. Wave Of Mutilation
4. I Bleed
5. Here Comes Your Man
6. Dead
7. Monkey Gone To Heaven
8. Mr. Grieves
9. Crackity Jones
10. La La Love You
11. Number 13 Baby
12. There Goes My Gun
13. Hey
14. Silver
15. Gouge Away

One of the more enduring of the Pixies' studio albums, Doolittle is a mixed bag that offers both the more beloved Pixies "hits" and some of their more trying material. To a certain degree, Doolittle is a bit more restrained and certainly far less manic than Surfer Rosa, but many of the elements of the Pixies are better honed. This album does really start to show off the amazing soloing talents of guitarist Joey Santiago, easily one of the most overlooked guitarists of the 80s and 90s. His countermelodies on the songs often provide the real depth to the music, especially on "Here Comes Your Man". On other songs like "Monkey Gone To Heaven", his ability to combine a sharp solo with dissonance and what should be noise is remarkable. Naturally, Black Francis still is up to his normal vocal tricks throughout, singing about a variety of seemingly nonsensical topics. This guy is difficult to peg as you can never quite tell if his tongue is planted firmly in his cheek or the degree of seriousness that he mighta have taken himself. Needless to say, his varying range of vocal approaches does give the music more depth as well.

Doolittle does indeed pack a few of the band's most popular songs in: "Debaser", "Here Comes Your Man" and "Wave of Mutilation". I still consider Doolittle to be lacking the insanity of the band's first two releases and the fully fleshed musical ideas of their final studio album, Trompe Le Monde. Regardless, there is more than enough great music here to make it a worthwhile purchase as the Pixies at their worst were still better than most.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2000

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Bossanova

Pixies - Bossanova ©1990 4AD/Elektra
1. Cecilia Ann
2. Rock Music
3. Velouria
4. Allison
5. Is She Weird
6. Ana
7. All Over The World
8. Dig For Fire
9. Down To The Well
10. The Happening
11. Blown Away
12. Hang Wire
13. Stormy Weather
14. Havalina

If there ever existed a ho-hum, hardly necessary Pixies album, Bossanova would fit the bill immediately. Other publications have rightfully noted that a lot of the material here sounds like Doolittle leftovers and that on a whole makes the album less engaging and appealing than any of its predecessors. Bossanova is a record that often sounds like it is searching for an identity but never quite gets there. There are elements of surf music as well as more swirling, chaotic shrieking songs, but nothing that really captures the listener's ear like material from Surfer Rosa. As much as I try, Bossanova becomes a nearly impossible album to sit through in its entirety. A couple of these songs are quite good: "Is She Weird" and "Down to the Well" both come to mind. However, the majority of album comes across as the Pixies rushing to get yet another album out and not putting enough time and care into the songwriting.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2001

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Dig For Fire [single]

Pixies - Dig For Fire Single ©1990 4AD/Elektra
1. Dig For Fire
2. Velvety Instrumental Version
3. Winterlong
4. Santo

A pretty good four song single from the Pixies. The nice thing about the Pixies singles is that they make sure to include otherwise unreleased material to make the singles worth buying. Aside from the decent title track, you get "Winterlong" from a Neil Young tribute album, an instrumental version of a Doolittle song and a sort of country-fied punkish "Santo". None of the material is really mandatory Pixies but at the same time the songs are a great flash of background color to help one appreciate the Pixies more.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2000

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Trompe Le Monde

Pixies - Trompe Le Monde ©1991 4AD/Elektra
1. Trompe Le Monde
2. Planet Of Sound
3. Alec Eiffel
4. The Sad Punk
5. Head On
6. U-Mass
7. Palace Of The Brine
8. Letter To Memphis
9. Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons
10. Space (I Believe In)
11. Subbacultcha
12. Distance Equals Rate Times Time
13. Lovely Day
14. Motorway To Roswell
15. The Navajo Know

After a couple somewhat average records in Doolittle and Bossanova, the Pixies' swan song (though unbeknownst at the time) turned out to be one of the finest things in the entire Pixies history. Black Francis must have been on a songwriting frenzy, as essentially everything here is either quite good or jawdroppingly excellent. The first three songs of the album set the stage for the entire album, acting as a great usher into their, pardon the wordplay, "Planet of Sound". "Alec Eiffel" is one of the best Pixies songs of them all, both with a great song progression and an incredible looping, strange solo from Joey Santiago. "Motorway to Roswell" is melancholic and dreamy, yet the lyrical matter discusses the supposed Roswell alien who was looking for a place to crash for the night. Obviously he literally found that on Earth. Definitely one of Black Francis' best lyrical moments, as well as truly capturing a solemn mood for the song. "The Navajo Know" is a slightly restrained but haunting album closer and a great way to close out the album. Of the fifteen songs here, maybe just "The Sad Punk" sounds a bit out of place. Otherwise, this is a killer album featuring the Pixies at one of their finest hours.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2000

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Alec Eiffel [single]

Pixies - Alec Eiffel Single ©1991 4AD/Elektra
1. Alec Eiffel
2. Letter To Memphis (instrumental)
3. Build High
4. Evil Hearted You

The Pixies were a strange outfit. Their earliest work was nothing short of brilliant, with both Surfer Rosa and Come On Pilgrim being long on outrageous ideas and inventive songwriting. But afterwards they hit a lull with the following couple of albums and only on their last effort before Black Francis morphed into Frank Black did they become interesting again. Trompe le Monde was chock full of the kind of songs that put the Pixies on the map to begin with. The best one happens to be this single, "Alec Eiffel". Featuring an extremely perfect and loopy solo from Joey Santiago, "Alec Eiffel" is the kind of song that makes you stand at attention and listen. The non-album tracks on the album are a mix bag of typical Black Francis weirdness, from the Spanish language "Evil Hearted You" to the countrified "Build High" and the instrumental "Letter to Memphis". On these tracks it seems Black Francis found a little prairie in himself. Needless to say, the single is a worthy addition to any Pixies fan collection.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/1999

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Death To The Pixies

Pixies - Death To The Pixies ©1997 Elektra
CD one:
1. Cecilia Ann
2. Planet Of Sound
3. Tame
4. Here Comes Your Man
5. Debaser
6. Wave Of Mutilation
7. Dig For Fire
8. Caribou
9. Holiday Song
10. Nimrod's Son
11. U-Mass
12. Bone Machine
13. Gigantic
14. Where Is My Mind?
15. Velouria
16. Gouge Away
17. Monkey Gone To Heaven
CD two:
18. Debaser
19. Rock Music
20. Broken Face
21. Isla De Encanta
22. Hangwire
23. Dead
24. Into The White
25. Monkey Gone To Heaven
26. Gouge Away
27. Here Comes Your Man
28. Allison
29. Hey
30. Gigantic
31. Crackity Jones
32. Something Against You
33. Tame
34. Wave Of Mutilation
35. Where Is My Mind?
36. Ed Is Dead
37. Vamos
38. Tony's Theme

A two CD retrospective compilation is something that is richly deserved by the Pixies, when one considers the mass influence the four piece had on a blossoming "alternative" scene. Reaffirming the notion that it's okay to play modern rock with guitars, the Pixies helped kick down doors in their idiom. Naturally, the band dissolved before really enjoying any massive success on the level of, oh, Nirvana or (if you want to be mean to Black Francis) The Breeders. However, their popularity has seemingly increased in the years since their demise and this compilation of album tracks and live songs is a reminder of what the Pixies are all about.

Naturally any "Best Of" package is going to get certain people griping about track inclusion and exclusion. Personally I am baffled why there are so few tracks from their final album (and best work) Trompe Le Monde or other great songs like "I've Been Tired" were ignored on both the live and studio discs. Doolittle meanwhile contributes six tracks to no more than three from any other album. Obviously "Here Comes Your Man" and "Wave of Mutilation" need inclusion, but so many? I personally don't think that the songs here are fully the best the band has done. I would have also included a tune or two more from Surfer Rosa.

Anyhoo, getting back to the music, as stated before, the Pixies did kickstart a resurgence in guitar rock. From Black Francis' basic but rocking rhythm guitars to the fluid and inventive leads of Joey Santiago over the solid rhythm section of Kim Deal and David Lovering, the Pixies are infectious to a high degree. These are the kind of songs that demand replay and attention. The live CD shows that the band was able to nail things down convincingly in a live setting as well. Again I have to gripe that certain songs are included in duplication from the studio CD. Preferrably they could have included different songs to give an even larger overview of the Pixies catalogue. Death to the Pixies of course will end up in the hands of every loyal Pixies fanatic out there. It doesn't replace owning the actual back catalogue (well, except maybe Doolittle), but it is still worth the ticket price for the live disc, if nothing else.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/1999

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At The BBC

Pixies - At The BBC ©1998 4AD/Elektra
1. Wild Honey Pie
2. There Goes My Gun
3. Dead
4. Subbacultcha
5. Manta Ray
6. Is She Weird
7. Ana
8. Down To The Well
9. Wave Of Mutilation
10. Letter To Memphis
11. Levitate Me
12. Caribou
13. Monkey Gone To Heaven
14. Hey
15. (In Heaven) Lady In The Radiator Song

As expected, post-Pixies compilations are popping up everywhere and only mildly satiating the appetite of the band's cult following. Between this and Death to the Pixies, one can get an interesting - if incomplete - overview of this strangely influential band. And of the two, I prefer this collection of song choices partly due to my personal preference in material selected.

At the BBC compiles fifteen tracks recorded in many different sessions at the famous BBC in Britain, giving reinterpretations of many Pixies faithful tunes. The band's back catalogue including b-sides is fairly well presented, though I still wish certain tracks would be represented on these post-breakup releases: "I've Been Tired", "River Euphrates", among others. Regardless, the recording quality is impeccable and retains a loose, almost live vibe without sacrificing certain elements to the live setting. Black Francis and Kim Deal's vocals are well captured. In essence, At the BBC becomes a nice little companion disc to both the proper Pixies studio albums and the two disc Death to the Pixies. Totally and completely worth the time for Pixies fanatics.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2000

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Return Of The Fat Man [bootleg]

Pixies - Return Of The Fat Man ©2000 Black Pearl
1. Into The White
2. Debaser
3. Wave Of Mutilation
4. River Euphrates
5. Crackity Jones
6. No. 13 Baby
7. Monkey Gone To Heaven
8. Dead
9. Isla De Encanta
10. Cactus
11. There Goes My Gun
12. Gigantic
13. I Bleed
14. Hey
15. Caribou
16. Bone Machine
17. Gouge Away
18. Tame
19. The Holiday Song
20. Where Is My Mind
21. Nimrod's Son
22. Levitate Me
23. Tony's Theme

Recently there seems to have been a veritable flood of Pixies bootlegs in various stores, mostly originating from live shows during 1989. I chanced upon a used copy of one of these illicit recordings, titled Return of the Fat Man, and my interest was piqued, although I'm not necessarily a huge fan of many bootlegs. As it turns out, Return of the Fat Man exists with a couple different covers and the bad mastering job of this version I have suggests someone bootlegged the original bootleg. While the sound quality is actually extremely good as it was soundboard recording, there are a plethora of squeaks, pops, minute skips and other aggravating flaws that detract from the overall enjoyment of the show. The Pixies' performance is exceptional here and were those flaws nonexistent, this bootleg would be nearly as good as At the BBC or the live CD from the Death to the Pixies collection. Return of the Fat Man also includes little information beyond the mistitled set list (several of the songs are given wrong titles) and a couple photos of the band. And for those curious, the show was recorded on May 8th, 1989, in London, England, before a fairly rowdy audience.

If it weren't for the incompetent job of mastering this CD, Return of the Fat Man would be an excellent bootleg, which is a rare feat. Whoever put this out should be ashamed of botching a good performance and dragging the listenability factor down with the extraneous noises and dropouts.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2001

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The Complete B-Sides

Pixies - The Complete B-Sides ©2001 4AD
1. River Euphrates
2. Vamos (live)
3. In Heaven (Lady In The Radiatior Song) (live)
4. Manta Ray
5. Weird At My School
6. Dancing The Manta Ray
7. Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf)
8. Into The White
9. Bailey's Walk
10. Make Believe
11. I've Been Waiting For You
12. The Thing
13. Velvety Instrumental Version
14. Winterlong
15. Santo
16. Theme From Narc
17. Build High
18. Evil Hearted You
19. Letter To Memphis (Instrumental)

After several years of unwanted silence, dedicated hardcore Pixies fans have finally been treated with a series of excellent releases that have done plenty to fill in gaps left by the influential modern rock outfit. While Black Francis has provided studio releases in the form of Frank Black (and often surpassing the Pixies in the process), the need for live releases and retrospectives has been filled fairly well with Death to the Pixies and At the BBC. However, over the course of their existence, the Pixies released a slew of singles with plenty of good b-sides and until now, one would had to have searched out a multitude of digipacks and singles to get them all in one place. Thankfully, 4AD has finally accumulated all the b-side material onto one disc so that the dedicated fans can find it all in one place.

The b-sides released over the years are a mix between covers, live versions, unreleased songs and alternate takes of familiar tunes. Mr. B. Francis takes a little time to give listeners snippets of information about each of the tracks. On a whole, this isn't exactly a "lost" studio Pixies album or anything quite so grandiose. Rather, this collection fills in cracks and gaps. Very few of these songs are truly gems that outshine everything on any Pixies album; however, they are all still either mildly intriguing or downright good. One track that stands out moreso than others is "Make Believe", sung by drummer David Lovering about his obsession with Debbie Gibson. Another notable track is "Velvety Instrumental Version", which finally was reworked with vocals on one of the most recent Frank Black albums. The slow version of "Wave of Mutilation" is included here, which for some fans represents the better version.

Pixies fans should do whatever it takes to get ahold of this collection. While not the definitive piece of work by the band, it is still great for completing the picture of the band. It certainly is more convenient than going the completist route to search out every single the band ever released.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2003

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Pixies

Pixies - Pixies ©2002 SpinArt
1. Broken Face
2. Build High
3. Rock A My Soul
4. Down To The Well
5. Break My Body
6. I'm Amazed
7. Here Comes Your Man
8. Subbacultcha
9. In Heaven

Back in the Pixies' early demo days, the band recorded a seventeen song cassette that was ultimately known as "The Purple Tape" by the fans. 4AD was so excited by this demo that they took eight of the songs and released it as the band's debut EP, Come On Pilgrim. The remaining nine songs have since remained under lock and key, so to speak, until now. Finally SpinArt Records has gained permission to allow the remaining songs from that session to be released and this self-titled disc is the result.

Many of these songs have been re-recorded by the band on later albums or on B-sides or even in the BBC sessions that were released in 1998. Thus, with the exception of "Rock a My Soul", all these songs are familiar to longtime fans of the Pixies. However, they do capture the band in that frantic, embryonic stage that made Come On Pilgrim such a breath of fresh air when it was released. There is very little frill or fanfare to the music; rather, the band simply sets things up, tears it down and heads out the door when they are done. Ardent fans will of course enjoy this release particularly to hear the differences between the original demo versions and their later studio counterparts. "Subbacultcha" is perhaps the song displaying the biggest difference in approach, particularly since the re-recorded version occurred several years later on Trompe Le Monde, the band's final studio release.

The one drawback to this CD is that it is barely over eighteen minutes long and I still was required to pay full price for it. Simply having possession of the rest of "The Purple Tape" songs does make it essentially worth the entry fee, but it honestly should have been released at EP price. Regardless, longtime fans of the band are going to be squealing with glee over this release, which hopefully will take the band full circle in terms of the career overviews that have been issued since their demise.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2002

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