Pixies, Beneath the Eyrie – The band’s newest release was recorded at a recording studio in Ulster County, New York, that used to be a church. It had a Gothic feel that inspired the general vibe of the album, and the title comes from a bald eagle’s nest in a tree above the building. Paz Lenchantin, the bass player, sings harmonies fairly similar to those of her predecessor Kim Deal. Overall, it’s not as noisy as the original run of the Pixies, which makes sense, but the bass parts in particular have much the sort of sound. The Gothic theme that makes its way into the lyrics about death, witchcraft, and ghosts seems fairly natural for the Pixies, although the Americana element is more akin to Frank’s solo work in the mid-2000s, It’s sort of that kind of country/folk theme, but generally more up-tempo and with electric instruments. My wife, who isn’t normally a big fan of the Pixies, really likes this album. The opening to “Mrs. Mark of Cain” sounds pretty similar to the outro of “Motorway to Roswell.” “Graveyard Hill,” about a witch’s curse, is a powerful song that rhymes “torches” with “gorgeous,” but it still works. It goes back to the traditional Pixies arrangement of getting louder in the choruses. From what I’ve read, “Catfish Kate” is based on a story Frank’s dad told him about a woman who was dragged into a river by a catfish, but then killed the fish and made a robe out of it. Perhaps even more so than the rest of the album, it’s kind of folky in the lyrics, but not much in the presentation. “This Is My Fate” is perhaps the most Americana in its sound. I particularly like the percussion break after “take a little more drink” in the refrain. It gives a spiritual theme to the Harmony Borax Works, a mining area in Death Valley. “Long Rider” and “Los Surfer Muertos,” co-written by Frank and Paz with her on lead vocals on the latter, are both about surfers dying, with the latter having Paz on lead vocals. Surfing was a frequent theme in the Pixies’ early work (hey, their first album was called Surfer Rosa), and I guess “Ed Is Dead” was about the untimely death of a surfer, although it wasn’t while she was surfing. “St. Nazaire” is a more traditional-sounding Pixies song, noisy and with a lot of screaming. Lyrically, though, it hearkens back to “Selkie Bride,” and that title even appears here. The bitter breakup song “Bird of Prey” has the repeated refrain of “little birdie” by Paz. A caleche, as mentioned in the lyrics, is a kind of two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with a removable hood, at least according to Google. The slow ballad “Daniel Boone” is about a recent experience where Frank swerved to avoid hitting a deer. This happened in New York, so I’m not sure why it mentions the Lord Howe Reef in Australia. The closer “Death Horizon,” the shortest song on the album at barely over two minutes, is a calm, accepting song about impeding doom.
There was a set of demos for songs that didn’t make it to the album, perhaps because they’re not as much in line with the Gothic theme, available on the vinyl release. There’s more of a crisp sound to the instrumentation, and a few of these have catchy, poppy choruses. A few are a more on the experimental side. “Chapel Hill” is basically just the phrase “All of this is not for nothing” repeated, interspersed with out-of-context spoken bits. “Caught in a Dream” kind of reminds me of “Manta Ray,” especially the opening line. “Under the Marigold” is a country-tinged song with a mostly-spoken narrative, kind of akin to “Virginia Reel,” although not as rambling.
Robyn Hitchcock and Andy Partridge, Planet England – This is a four-song collaboration between two musicians I quite like. I’ve been a fan of Andy and XTC for over twenty years. It was some time later that I got into Robyn’s music. There are some similarities between them, although Andy tends to be more straightforward and Robyn more surreal. Then again, Andy did write most of the Dukes of Stratosphear songs, so it’s not like he isn’t capable of the surrealistic. Robyn sings lead on three of the songs. There’s kind of a Dukes feel to much of this; it’s rather dreamlike, and there are breaks with carnival music. “Flight Attendants, Please Prepare for Love” is my favorite title, but probably my least favorite song on the EP, which is kind of a shame. “Got My…”, the one with Andy on lead, reminds me of some other songs he’s done before, the acoustic ones that sound very traditionally English, at least to my American ears. “Planet England” is a somewhat sarcastic ode to the country, which seems appropriate; they’re both pretty cheeky. I hope they record more together soon.