'Beneath the Eyrie' Is the Pixies' Strongest Release Since Their Reemergence
Beneath the Eyrie is the portrait of the Pixies' musical progression and an arresting glimpse of the group in this contemporary musical moment.
Beneath the Eyrie
13 September 2019
Beneath the Eyrie, the seventh studio album from the Pixies, is the logical next step in the band's progression. Since their reformation in 2014, the band have struggled to reclaim an iota of the caliber they dexterously exhibited in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since Kim Deals' departure, the band has solidified as a collective. Beneath the Eyrie shows telltale Pixie elements and is salient in its musical scope and lyrical sequence. The tales told on the album are macabre and bizarre and with the occasional surf song thrown in, Beneath the Eyrie is a reflection of the Pixies from their heyday. But the album is not a return to the Pixies of yore. Beneath the Eyrie is the portrait of the band's musical progression and an arresting glimpse of the Pixies in this contemporary musical moment.
As with any quintessential Pixies album, surfing and the sport's connection to personal fulfillment, are central on Beneath the Eyrie. "The Long Rider" and "Los Surfer Muertos", co-written by Black Francis and bassist Paz Lenchantin, create the animated and powerful energy associated with surfing. "The Long Rider's" opening instrumentation gives way to the full band who adroitly roll and hammer. The spoken bridge offers Francis' and Lenchantin's endorsement of contemporary surf culture when they express their belief in legends Mika Dora and Keoni Yan.
Their reference to surfer George "Peanuts" Larson, connects "The Long Rider" directly to the subsequent, and noticeably darker, "Los Surfer Muertos", translated to the dead surfers. The track illustrates the famous break Killer Dana, once rode by Peanuts, yet deemed as a dangerous, albeit prominent surf spot. The track pays tribute to Lenchantin's friend who "caught her last big wave / Killer Dana took her life away." In typical Pixies fashion, the song is not a lamentation on deathly mistakes. Rather it is a celebration of chasing down passion despite the harrowing consequences.
Death is prominently considered throughout Beneath the Eyrie. "On Graveyard Hill", the witch Donna casts a fatal curse on her unsuspecting lover who takes his "last breath / With each chapter and each verse and soon I will be killed." Likewise, "Silver Bullet" finds a tormented man wandering the night looking for a duel to get himself killed. The call-and-response between Francis' vocals and Joey Santiago's guitar punctuate lurid morbidity. Pixies, however, subvert the assumption that life and death exist in a binary. In "Daniel Boone", a misnomer since the track is not about the pioneer, Francis imagines a spirit rising from a deceased entity bound for reincarnation. The track is noticeably softer and harmonic evoking a chimeric soundscape.
For the Pixies, the commencement of corporeality is not their singular understanding of death. Indelibly, Beneath the Eyrie also captures death as a symbolic end. "Death Horizon" is interpretable as either the ending of a relationship or the demise of humanity. The track opens with Francis realizing the relationship is over but still "finds it very surprising / He's coming to you / But I am thankful that he helped me to see." The track's scope widens to erase the focus on the individual and shifts to a critique of humanity. Ultimately the ending of the relationship is trivial when "I can feel that the temperature's rising but what can you do? / 'cause that death horizon gonna burn you right through." The instrumental jauntiness and Lenchantin's gleaming background vocals give the song a coyness thereby conveying a not-so-subtle fuck you. In doing so, Pixies dismiss the personal as hubris, especially when global catastrophe awaits.
This is Francis using the lyrics to reflect on his own life. Undergoing a divorce, the album is littered with references to heartbreak. Notably, the album's opener "In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain", describes life as wanton especially when one is stuck in a cursed relationship. With this in mind and returning to "Death Horizon", the narrator is not an anonymous depressive but likely Francis himself.
Throughout Beneath the Eyrie, Pixies utilize bizarre imagery and magical elements. "St. Nazaire" finds the track's narrator going down on a "selkie bride", Irish myth lore of a seal bride. Whereas "Catfish Kate" portrays a woman who falls into a river and is taken by a giant catfish. Rejecting her demise, Kate and the catfish "wrestled all day and night the morning showed the bloody sight". Kate emerges victorious from the waters wearing the catfish's skin and whiskers. Considered together, "St. Nazaire" and "Catfish Kate" show a spark and a call to fight. The former instrumentally in its punk sound and David Lovering's powerful drumming. Meanwhile, the latter lyrically finds its fire as it replicates a woman's tenacity and strength. Yet, it is on these two tracks where Beneath the Eyrie demonstrates a sliver of weakness. Frank's methodical and careful vocals don't match the instrumental and lyrical intensity.
Regardless, Beneath the Eyrie is the Pixies' strongest release since the band's reemergence. The album lyrically augments the real and magical while reestablishing the Pixies' musical fortitude.
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