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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Two decades since local Boston band started their wave of mutilation

Published: April 1, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

Modest Mouse just released its latest album this March. The album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, immediately hit the Billboard Top 200 charts. The band's impressive chart performance has been yet another sign of the recent wave embracing the indie rock genre. This March was also the twentieth anniversary of the Pixies' first recording effort, released as an EP entitled Come on Pilgrim in March 1987. Modest Mouse can directly attribute its success to its predecessor's early indie efforts;

Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain even declared that his songs were “Pixies rip-offs”. A full two decades after these initial recordings, the Boston-based rock group's legacy should be celebrated.

The Pixies bridged the gap between the underground rock of the 1980's and the alternative boom of the 1990's with music that could both be accessible and rough. Made up of vocalist and lead guitarist, Frank Black (who also went by the name Black Francis), bass guitarist and vocalist Kim Deal, drummer Dave Lovering, and lead guitarist Joey Santiago, the band broke up after only six years and five albums. Known for screeching guitars, a song structure of characteristic start-stops, and both male and female vocals, these pioneering characteristics have all contributed to the band's unique legacy. The outfit of four are also said to have invented an structure later popularized by Nirvana known as soft verse, hard chorus.

Their pioneering LP, Surfer Rosa, has been continually considered one of the greatest albums of the past 25 years;

the release date of the album is also about to reach twenty years next March. The album has been important in not just the United States and the United Kingdom, but Mexico as well, as a Mexican magazine, Pure Pop, named Surfer Rosa the second most important album of all-time. The group's most recognized song, the eerie yet epic Where Is My Mind only gives listeners the very tip of the iceberg of the greatness the rest of the album possesses. In their sophomore effort, Doolittle, the group followed up their initial album with some of their most well-known songs, including the incredibly catchy Here Comes Your Man, the cryptic and beautiful Monkey Gone to Heaven and the loud and dynamic Debaser. The rest of the band's catalog includes two more critically acclaimed albums, Bossanova and Trompe le Monde, that still easily stand the test of time of today's music. In fact, many say that today's music would not exist if not for the crucial rock group. Since the early 1990's, the band has done it all: it has gone on hiatus to work on side projects, broken up, released compilation albums and been covered an endless amount of times (an incredible five tribute albums have already been released in their honor), and finally has gotten back together to go on tour with the eventual goal of releasing a new album.

It makes sense then to say that the influence the Pixies have had on music in the past twenty years is quite impressive for a group that has never gone multi-platinum or topped the singles chart anywhere. Cobain admitted in a Rolling Stone interview in January 1994, that Nirvana's monster hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, was an attempt to write a Pixies song, stating, I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. Cobain's magnum opus would never have been written had it not been for the Pixies. Furthermore, lead singer of Weezer, Rivers Cuomo, stated in an interview the Pixies really blew my mind when I first moved to L.A.. Blur (and later Gorillaz) front man Damon Albarn said off-handedly concerning his band's movement towards a more American sound in the late 1990's, When we started we wanted to sound like the Pixies. Also, Radiohead were honored to be able to play with the Pixies in 2004 at the Coachella Music Festival, but were horrified to be told that the Pixies would open up for them. Front man Thom Yorke cried, No! That's just not right! The Pixies opening for us is like the Beatles opening for us. I won't allow it. There's no way we can follow the Pixies! Yorke later claimed that the group effectively changed his life.

Other musicians like Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters have labeled the Pixies' Frank Black as his vocal hero, while more recent artists like Bush, Spoon, Tapes 'n' Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Coldplay, Everclear, the Strokes, and the Arcade Fire are a few of the many bands to either revere the group or pay clear homage to their sound. Even older musicians like David Bowie and Bono of U2 have said they were energized by the eccentric music of the Pixies and that they have inspired them to keep searching for new, creative sounds. Bowie especially has considered them one of the truly under-appreciated rock bands, declaring in an interview in the magazine Addicted to Noise, Nor were the Pixies [really recognized at all], not in America anyway. They were more in Europe. They gained a real cult following in Europe. But over here it seems nobody believed in the Pixies. It does seem that first come is last rewarded in many cases. Bowie is just one of the many musicians to have covered the band on numerous occasions.

So if you are one of the few unlucky enough never to have heard of or heard the legendary alternative rock group, the Pixies, now is definitely the time to check them out. Perhaps, like Rivers Cuomo and a countless assortment of others, they will blow your mind too, a full twenty years and counting after their first studio recordings.

What to listen to first: The Pixies: Doolittle (1988) and Surfer Rosa (1989), The Breeders: Last Splash (1993), Frank Black: Teenager of the Year (1994).