Head Carrier (PIAS)
by Scott Deckman
The Pixies 2.0’s second tilt, Head Carrier, picks up where the first one, Indie Cindy, left off; and like its predecessor, it’s a bit uneven. Though the band switched producers from Gil Norton (knob-twiddler for both Indie Cindy and their finest work the first time around) to Tom Dalgety, who’s worked with Royal Blood, Killing Joke, and Opeth (Frank Black Francis Black Metal?), the results are still fairly close. While Head Carrier is better, I think the similarity speaks to a type of consistency: This is the Pixies 2.0, this is how they sound, like it or not.
While some of Head Carrier seems subdued, or even a little boring on the first few listens, that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems, both shiny and opaque, to ferret out. Cue up third song, “Baal’s Back.” This screamer continues Black’s penchant for singing about the celestial, here making the titular ancient Middle Eastern deity sound as fierce and jealous as you’d think a Middle Eastern deity would. “Baal’s Back” is also the third song by Francis where he sounds a bit like Brian Johnson, though not quite as Johnson-esque as he does on parts of Indie Cindy‘s “Blue Eyed Hexe” or Beatles cover “Wild Honey Pie” from Pixies at the BBC. FBF/DC? Why not? Maybe it’s time for Angus to try a bigger guy for once? This is the mature, lower-registered version of that psychopathic scream of the late ’80s, closer to “The Sad Punk” than something off Doolittle. Where before it was a quick slasher tornado that came and went as it wished, willy-nilly and capricious, now it’s the hurricane that sticks around for days and means business.
Talk about baleful.
There is a guitar-rock feel to most of Head Carrier, as both Black and quirky genius Joseph Alberto Santiago use their muscular chops to counterpoint melody, though much of this lacks the vitality of the old Pixies. Sometimes as technique gets stronger, beautiful naiveté loses out. There is a professional sheen to the album. It could also be known as their French record (even more so than Tromp le Monde); that nation turns up again and again on Head Carrier.
“All I Think About Now” is a poignant tale – ballad-esque – about a certain departed bassist, co-written by FB and the new four-stringer who replaced her. Paz Lenchantin sings it too, her first lead vocal as a Pixie; she even sounds similar to Ms. Deal here. And this is special, as it’s the only time I know of that Frank has admitted to explicitly writing about Her Kimness, a figure of almost equal importance as he in the world of modern rock. Whatever your take, Paz seems like a good fit musically and personally, as the band has effusively praised the former Zwan and A Perfect Circle bassist. Her voice is all over this release. Here, the band buttresses the wistful with heavy, if understated, guitar, showing a different shade of the quiet/loud/quiet dynamic of yore, kind of achieving it all once.
Both “Tenement Song” and “Bel Esprit” are fairly straight-ahead rockers; “Tenement Song” features a great chorus, while “Bel Esprit” sees Charles and Paz trading verses and harmonizing to good effect. The former deals with music as a gift passed down to loved ones, the latter a treatise on the sour grapes of love. As usual, Black sprinkles in references both pop and esoteric. Title song “Head Carrier” and “Plaster Of Paris” are both linked to the first bishop of Paris, Saint Denis, the one who, as legend tells it, picked up his noggin and took a long stroll after being beheaded.
He also namedrops one of the all-time cool alphas, Jack Palance, on “Talent,” and Cora Pearl, legendary Parisian courtesan of British extraction on “Um Chagga Lagga,” the second-most rockin song on Head Carrier and probably its shining star. “Um Chagga Lagga” is immediate, feral and sexual, the Pixies stealing from, oh, I don’t know who, Billy Childish maybe? Rock’n’roll is a thief’s paradise, but you better best do something good with it, and here they do. This rough, stripped-down garage rocker has already achieved some success, reaching number 1 on industry site FMBQ’s SubModern Singles chart earlier this summer.
Closer “All The Saints” may be the album’s sleeper, like Indie Cindy capper “Jaime Bravo,” which turned out to be the best track from that record; it only took me a year or so to realize it. “All The Saints” is a pretty, bittersweet Santiago showcase that deals with familial death and existence in an oddball, Charles Thompson lullaby way. The more you listen, the sadder it gets.
This may not be classic Pixies (it’s not 1991 anymore), but the band did add, at the least, a couple worthwhile tunes to the canon. There’s always something to like when Frank Black Francis bangs away on the Tele.