This week's music: Pixies are back with a reputation-restoring ripper
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
(Pixiemusic/ Play It Again Sam)
This is a way better Pixies offering than 2014 comeback Indie Cindy, a mediocre album that did the band's cult considerable damage.
Nostalgia-addled detractors will tell you this is merely the sound of a once-mighty band desperate to sound like their younger selves but I prefer to celebrate those songs where they succeed.
His voice recalling a dyspeptic Neil Young, the title track finds frontman Black Francis mid-nightmare, with a decapitated saint traipsing through his subconscious, head under his arm, over savage chugging guitars.
Classic Masher kicks off with a classic Spector "girl group" beat before crashing into a darkly funny tale of envy centred around a more stylish gent in a haberdashery store.
With its amiable jangle, clean led runs and crisp drums, Plaster Of Paris could be Black Francis fronting The Bats.
On more calmly melodic fare such as Tenement Song and Might As Well Be Gone, new member Paz Lenchantin cleaves closely to the simple vocal harmonies/ unflashy root-note thump of original bassist Kim Deal, but she's equally able to buckle her bass bins on kick-arse lead single Um Chagga Lagga and old-school throat-shredder Baal's Back, where Francis sounds particularly bilious and bug-eyed.
Elsewhere, there's little else that's deranged enough to challenge the primal surf-rock surrealism of 1988's Surfer Rosa but the best bits here deserve our love.
Formerly known as Viet Cong, the Canadian four piece changed their name this year amid accusations of racism towards Vietnamese. This is modern post-punk to a tee with an array of gloomy melodies and repetitive rhythms. The Calgary group draw a strong influence from noise rock with bizarre and eerie soundscapes emanating throughout. Morose vocal work is a standout element with Zodiac carrying an almost Nick Cave feel. There's no denying the conventional post-punk elements can come across as generic - Memory could be straight from a New Order record. But the melodies are still effective for the most part. It must be challenging for a band to rebrand but Preoccupations have the chops to pick up where they left off.
The Handsome Family
As mysterious as ever, The Handsome Family have emerged out of their New Mexico hideaway with their latest offering, the moody Unseen. The husband and wife duo are probably best known for their song Far From Any Road, which was picked as the theme song for HBO show True Detective in 2014. They've been at it for a good while, though, and have made a nice career out of their southern gothic sound. Unsurprisingly, Unseen doesn't change a winning formula. The album's ten songs focus on the gloomy side of life. Brett Sparks' sonorous baritone booms along, adding weight to tales of woe and despair, lost love and melancholic echoes of the past. The lovely The Red Door evokes old seaman's tales, Tiny Tina, glances back at more modern scenarios – in this case a state fair – but make it seem like a million years ago. An evening spent with The Handsome Family is never going to be a dance party riot, of course, although there are times on Unseen that you wish they'd just kick it up a little bit.
The Solomon Cole Band
In a day and age of the body electric, The Solomon Cole Band might seem passe. Don't be fooled though. This four-piece, hewn from the rock that's Waiheke island, has all the hallmarks of classic blues-based rock where Cole's muddy guitar lines are reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, who could easily have written the strutting Littler Sister. Cole's vocals are the dark side of Miss Sophie's soulfulness and it works a charm on the ballsy Ring Your Bell and the booze-barn drive of Sweet Ruby. With a tight rhythm tension that has the elasticity of a bungee rope, The Solomon Cole Band have hit the motherlode.
- Sunday Star Times