Pixies Recapture Studio Mystique Via ‘Beneath the Eyrie’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Beneath the Eyrie is the seventh full-length album from alt-rock legends Pixies and the third since the band reunited in 2004. Like 2016’s Head Carrier, it is a more mature album, trading in a lot of the frenetic eccentricity that characterized the band’s early releases for a more cohesive sound. The sound is still diverse and at times heavy, but for better or worse is more refined and accessible.

Crafted in an abandoned church in Woodstock, Beneath the Eyrie is the darkest Pixies album to date, with a sense of gothic tension permeating its runtime. As with previous Pixies records, themes from the Bible, mythology, sci-fi, and the occult characterize Black Francis’s songwriting. Sonically, the album is uneasy and foreboding. If early Pixies albums were full of wild, unpredictable thrills like a rollercoaster, Beneath the Eyrie is more like walking through a haunted house, tense with anticipation of the occasional attacks.

Opening track “The Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain” combines twangy guitars with a propulsive rhythm from drummer Dave Lovering as Francis sings of finding contentment in an unhealthy relationship. “I’m not proud but I know that I’m sane, like a grouse who’s resigned to the blade,” Francis sings. “On A Graveyard Hill,” of the of album’s catchiest tracks, finds Francis singing of being cursed by a witch, which may be a metaphor for falling in love. “Donna’s taking her potion, eating my devotion, fucking up my emotion in the witching hour,” Francis sings over Paz Lenchantin’s bouncy bassline and eerily discordant lead guitar licks from Joey Santiago.

Even without the frenzied craziness of early Pixies music, Beneath the Eyrie still has standout rock moments. “The Long Rider” is an explosion of power fit for a mosh pit, built around Francis’s crunching power chords. There’s a primal hedonism to “St. Nazaire,” with Francis bellowing a primal growl over fuzzed-out surf punk riffing injected with HGH. On “Los Surfers Muertos,” an appropriately surf-tinged song, Lenchantin takes over lead vocals to sing about a friend who died in a freak surfing accident. The vocal distortion adds to the uneasy atmosphere as Lenchantin sings of “the Killer Dana Wave” that “took her life away.”

Some of the softer moments work as well, with the Pixies focusing a more melodic attack. The somber tale in “Silver Bullet” of a broken man wandering the streets looking for someone to duel and put him out of his misery is punctuated by parse, morose guitar arpeggios. “The shade is drawn with stem and vine, burned in the flame of a man condemned,” Francis sings. “With venom wine and golden dawn, a silver bullet in the chamber turning.” Santiago’s western guitar licks backing Francis add to the mood, painting the portrait of an Old West antihero’s tragic demise.

The new, more collected Pixies may lack the scattershot energy of Doolittle or Surfer Rosa, but the band is still crafting interesting stories. Sonic textures, melodies, and interesting arrangements are used to prop up the storytelling, rather than the stories taking a backseat to musicianship. Beneath the Eyrie is not as instantly catchy as the band’s early work, but it rewards repeated listens with an emphasis on lyrics and musical layers.

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