The Pixies release underwhelming new “EP1”

By Tommy Verdone

bradalmanac/ Flickr

Despite being a widely respected and influential band that growled its way to fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s, not much has happened with the Pixies in the last 22 years. The band, remembered dearly for its dysfunctional and darkly comical lyrics, grating vocals and Joey Santiago’s edgy guitar tone, has finally given its fans a new collection of tracks to drool over. Before the Sept. 3 independent release of “EP1,” the group’s new four-track, the band has recently received media attention when bassist and founding member Kim Deal quit the band earlier this year.

The band’s new EP consists mostly of tracks that greet you with a warm mid-tempo embrace that fails to move much further beyond this bleak first impression. While with many of the Pixies’ older songs the listener could feel a real emotional connection to lead singer Charles Thompson’s pained vocals and lyrics and the rest of the band’s unconditional, hard-rocking support, “EP1” left behind most traces of intimacy between the group and the music.

“EP1” does not sound objectively bad, some parts being charming and blatantly reminiscent of earlier albums such as “Surfer Rosa” or “Doolittle.” However, the entire collection of tracks seems to lack inspiration, and the absence of Deal’s fat and ever-present bass tone is easily noticed.

The Pixies suffered a messy initial breakup in 1993, leaving little hope in the hearts of listeners. With the band’s dynamics being remembered as rocky at best, most fans and music publications came to terms with the respective members’ new projects, such as front man Charles Thompson’s (stage named Black Francis, or Frank Black) Frank Black and the Catholics, or Kim Deal’s The Breeders.

With tensions always high between Thompson and Deal, a reunion seemed farfetched until 2004, when the band’s original members announced a new full tour. In June of the same year, the Pixies released the track “Bam Thwok” exclusively to iTunes, their first original track in 13 years, since their 1991 album “Trompe le Monde.”

As years went by, no new material seeped out of the band as they continued to tour and fall deeper into the slump of a touring oldies act.

“It was like, Ha ha, here we are at the casino. Is this the shape of things to come?” said Thompson in an interview with the New York Times, aware of the lack of new content his group had been putting out.

“EP1” is the Pixies’ solution to this lack of content. Although bassist Deal’s departure in June shook the group, she was replaced by guitarist and lead singer of The Muffs, Kim Shattuck. “EP1” was not treated positively by the media, receiving low scores from various review sites, as well as getting a rating of “1.0” on Pitchfork Media.

The album certainly sounds like the work of the Pixies lyrically, yet it lacks many of the major musical traits that are associated with the band such as a harsh juxtaposition of punk and surf rock, or the unexpected dynamic shifts that occur throughout a song. Many Pixies tracks will move from a dreamy or hypnotic point directly into a gritty hard rock state that sounds as if Thompson could be singing while in literal physical pain.

What “EP1” lacks is this jarring transition from hypnotic to gritty. This statement applies lyrically as well as musically: the four tracks on “EP1” fail to hit in the same way that tracks from their earlier albums hit. For the most part the album is much softer than traditional Pixies work, but this does not necessarily make it a weaker piece. There are certainly some hooking riffs such as the opening guitar on the last track “What Goes Boom,” which sounds the most like any older Pixies song, but overall it feels as though it lacks a real connection with its performers.

While once an angrily introspective collaboration of a wide range of genres of rock, the Pixies have pigeon-holed themselves with an EP that never really seems to change its mood throughout. It gives the impression that all of the band members are out of touch and have agreed on a clean and twangy indie sound.

“EP1” never seems to change its mood throughout its entire underwhelming 15 minute runtime, which is understandably disappointing to a fan base that is used to hearing songs that transcended from manic, crazed, verses into cutting and aggressive choruses. While the EP is not a terrible piece of music, it does not live up to the Pixies’ legacy.

Tommy Verdone can be reached at [email protected]