Sunday, November 22, 2009

Don't Know About You, But...

i-ron-y: [ahy-ruh-nee, ahy-er-]
5. an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.


So, I'm going through my thrice-a-year Pixies binge, because I'm pretty convinced that they might be in contention for the highly unexpected position of "one of my favorite bands ever".

I didn't really like the Pixies when I first heard them.

Annette, a manager at the restaurant I worked at in high school, loaned me Doolittle... passing it along to me like it was a secret. I assume this is the way people with older siblings find out about cool music. I had to mooch off my friends' older siblings. This would have been about '96 (I think), and I just didn't get along with the record. It was a little scratchity, almost too quirky, and the screaming wasn't really my bag at the time. I was just out of my "nothing but hardcore" phase (done with screaming), and the mysterious ambience of Guided By Voices (which she also loaned me, at the same time) held a lot more sway over my listening habits. Everything about the Pixies seemed so out front and clear and flat, like a photograph or film, while GBV was murky and deep.

But I diligently taped it, and kept going back to that cassette ever couple of weeks. I didn't really like it, but I couldn't help but want to listen to it more - it was like a compulsion. I didn't feel like I needed to like it, but it was so alien to me, I just wanted to see if it was as strange as I remembered it being. Naturally, as happens with most listeners (usually earlier than it did with me), I had some sort of epiphany with that record, and it was like a sudden, jolting realization when I understood I was listening to it wrong. I was taking all my preconceived notions - about it being a seminal "alternative rock" album, an influence on Nirvana that never broke through 'cause it was too weird, and the way that fans a generation ahead of me talked about it - and filtering through that.

All I had to do was open my ears and realize that it was just great music, you know? These were pop songs. Skewed, fractured, with scratchy mariachi guitars and screaming and stomping, but they were also 2:30 pop tunes. Shortly after I had this realization, I finally understood why Weezer had constantly been pegged as Pixies soundalikes. "Debaser" could have been on the Blue Album with a different vocal track. The more I listened, the more I liked it. The more I liked it, the more I listened. It was a good time to be an obsessive high schooler.

As I kept writing songs, in my so-called "punk rock" attempts to get away from "classic rock" songwriting (rootsy, verse-chorus-verse, maybe an acoustic guitar), I was drawn to the way their songs were short, like punk, and they were just played wrong as well. Where my primitive tunes had 8 bars of verse, 8 bars of chorus, 4 bars of bridge, 8 bars of chorus again, these Pixies albums were full of moments where they'd play a riff 7 times instead of 8, giving it this weird push-pull, with unexpected changes that actually SURPRISED me. And if Black Francis was the heart of the band, Kim Deal was the soul. She was what really hooked me overall. The frontman was scary, screaming like a deranged hobo about aliens and whores and surrealist films, but Deal's charming normalcy and audible sweetness was reassuring - as though to say "Hey, I know this is weird, but it's cool Go with it... it'll be a fun ride." As prickly as Black Francis seemed (as though he'd flip out at any moment), Kim had this sort of "Oh, Charles...!" vibe that didn't defuse the insanity, it just made it seem like a lot more fun.

All of the records are good, although my favorite often changed. Doolittle is probably their objective best, the most realized combination of fucked-up weirdness and hyper-catchy spazz-pop. Lots of my friends claim that Surfer Rosa is, like, THE ONE, and I know a few people who think that Trompe Le Monde is the best thing they did, due to the combination of heaviness and texture (the keyboards on that are actually really good). I'm the only person I know who really likes Bossanova, thanks to my love of surf music and space rock, although I know it's probably their weakest album. My favorite is Come On Pilgrim, not because I think it's their best, but because it's the most unique. All the songs sound like they were recorded live, in that order, on the same day, over the course of about 45 minutes. No super hits (no pop magic like "Wave Of Mutilation" or "Velouria"), and every one of those songs is catchy, but sounds like no other song I've heard before. And it was their first EP! How does a band do that?!?

What's the point of all this rambling? I'm coming to terms with the fact that while they've always been a band I really liked, and obviously thought was great, they may have just edged up into that rarified strata of "Mike's Favorite EVER Acts", up there with The Ramones, The Clash, Elvis Costello, et al. I would not have expected that the band I put on in high school and though "Too shrill. Too quirky." would end up a perennial favorite. And I stand by my assessment the other day. I am in the "Breeders" stage of my life right now. I no longer FEEL the way these songs feel. But they sure do compliment each other well.

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