Monday, August 27, 2012

Pixies Pow Wow: Our Top Ten Pixies Songs

[The Pixies are Kyle's favorite band. Pavement is Alex's favorite band. The two have fought about which influential group is superior since time began. As an interesting experiment, the two have decided to set aside their eternal hatred and list their top ten songs from each band. How will their lists compare? Read below to find out and come back two weeks from now to see their Pavement lists.]

Kyle Shoemaker's List

10. “Levitate Me”
It's easy to interpret this song as a love song, but I've never thought that was entirely accurate. The titular line of “Come on Pilgrim, you know he loves you!” is a reference to Christian folksinger Larry Norman. Therefore I believe that the “elevator lady” is either god or someone who decides Black Francis' ultimate fate. As far as kicking babies goes, I honestly have no idea... I think Charles Thompson is just a born absurdist.

9. “U-Mass”
If you needed any proof that a song doesn't exactly need to have any deep meaning to be great, this is the finest example I can set forth. The Joey Santiago mini riff into explosion of noise following the final utterance of “It's Educational” may very well be my favorite moment in any one single Pixies song.

8. “Head On”
Not only is this cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain song better than the original, it's not even close. Sure Charles Thompson didn't write the melody or lyrics to this song, but his sped up arrangement and screamed vocals make this song unequivocally Pixies. The Joey Santiago guitar solo remains one of the most iconic in all of rock music and yet lasts all of 12 seconds. 

7. “Caribou”
It's fitting in a way that this song is named after a wild animal, because it's among the most animalistic and ferocious songs of their catalog. If you've ever seen live footage of this song, take a gander at Joey's strumming being faster than the human eye. 

6. "Velouria"
For my money “Velouria” is the most beautiful melody that Charles Thompson has ever written. The simplistic idea of having Kim Deal sing the individual letters of Velouria as backup is something that I'd make fun of if virtually any other band attempted it. The Pixies aren't most bands and even when they attempt things that are incredibly cheesy they somehow make it work for them. 

5. “Gouge Away”
At the beginning of Doolittle on “Debaser”, Charles Thompson is horrified by the image of a razor blade slicing an eyeball that he witnessed in Un Chien Andalou. By the end of the album he's now using the imagery of eye mutilation all over again in a completely apathetic fashion; “gouge away, stay all day, if you want to”. The thing that really sets this song apart from the majority of Pixies songs is it's atypical use of the LoudQuietLoud formula. It's one of the few instances I can recall where the chorus is the quiet part and the loud part is the verses themselves.

4. “Where Is My Mind?”
Edward Norton is talking to Helena Bonham Carter in the film Fight Club; “trust me, everything's gonna be fine”.... suddenly you see half a dozen controlled demolitions of skyscrapers in the window behind them; “you met me at a very strange time in my life”. The song playing of course is “Where Is My Mind?”, and in that moment David Fincher said everything that needed to be said.

3. “Winterlong”
Most people wouldn't put a cover of a Neil Young song as one of the best songs of another band's discography, but hear me out. While this song doesn't do anything all that different than Neil Young's fantastic original, it manages to stand as one of the Pixies' best songs because the melodies are so greatly suited to Charles and Kim. The call and response of “I waited for you, winterlong”; “you seemed to be where I belong” comprise the final 45 seconds, and the use of a fadeout has never been more appropriate. One can imagine that the song continues for eternity while the Neil Young version just ends.

2. “Hey”
I'm fairly certain that there isn't another Pixies song on my list anywhere near as minimalist as “Hey”. I can listen to Kim's bass-line in this song forever and to cover it up with any unnecessary instrumentation would simply be a crime against humanity. The very simple drum roll/fill around the 2:50 mark isn't David Lovering's finest moment from a technical standpoint, but in a “holy shit, that happened” standpoint? Hell yes. The whole song sounds as if it's an exercise in restraint to make Charles' eccentric vocals as memorable as possible, and in that regard it succeeds wildly. 

1. “I've Been Tired”
There isn't a song that better embodies the spirit of the Pixies than “I've Been Tired”. When listening to it one must ask the question “what COMPELLED them?”. It's evident to me that the Pixies had absolutely no idea what they were doing in 1987 and created incredible songs out of some bizarre force of nature that cannot be explained in any identifiable way. There is no reason a song this strange both thematically and structurally should work, but it just fucking does because it's the Pixies.

Alexander Borg's List

10. “Allison”
What makes the Pixies such a legendary band for me is their unparalleled ability to balance dichotomies. While best known for their quiet-loud dynamic formula that has been emulated by countless bands, the seminal alternative rock band also had a knack for pairing pop with hardcore, infectious melodies with tremendous ferocity. On “Alison,” the Pixies do just that, crafting a nice, little love song that satisfies both my hunger for a great melody and my desire to smash everything in my office.

9. “Dig for Fire”
One of the bounciest songs in the Pixies’ oeuvre, “Dig for Fire” is the defining track of Bossanova for me. Featuring a fantastic, undulating bassline from Kim Deal, the hard-hitting yet sparse drumming of David Lovering, and the crunchy guitars of Black Francis and Joey Santiago, the track coalesces into a sort of musical locomotive, each element creating a palpable sense of momentum.

8. “There Goes My Gun”
Give Black Francis an electric guitar and he transforms into a deranged maniac. The perfect example of this Hyde-esque transformation is the song “There Goes My Gun” off of Doolittle. Lyrically one of the most minimal Pixies songs ever written (which is saying something), the song begins with wailing feedback followed by Francis’ stentorian roar of “YOO HOO!” When a vocalist can turn the phrase “yoo hoo” into a battle cry, you know they’ve got talent.

7. “Gouge Away”
The pinnacle of the Pixie’s aggressive catalog in my opinion, “Gouge Away” is less of a song and more of an audio document of a psychopath torturing his captor. My head conjures all sorts of intricate Saw-esque imagery whenever I listen to this song indicating its sheer, violent brilliance. Already absolutely brutal, the track is made even more more sinister with Kim Deal’s alluring “la la la” at 1:00. I wouldn’t mind getting murdered to this song.

6. “Gigantic”
Despite being one of only a handful of songs penned by Kim Deal, “Gigantic” is undeniably one of the Pixies’ greatest achievements. A phenomenally catchy number bolstered by an explosive chorus, the song has a dark side (no pun intended). I’ll leave you this Wikipedia link if you’d like to uncover the song’s deeper meaning.

5. “Monkey Gone to Heaven”
A song about environmentalism, numerology, and religious salvation all in one. What earns “Monkey Gone to Heaven” its spot on this list is how the music of the song perfectly reflects its lyrics. When I imagine what “ten million pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey” sound like, I hear Francis’ sludgy, filthy guitar tone.

4. “The Holiday Song”
A raucous number from the all killer no filler Come on Pilgrim mini-LP, “The Holiday Song” makes perfect use of a young Black Francis, featuring an all out barrage of the troubadour's most impassioned screams ever recorded. Brash in its ferocity and armed with a instantly memorable melody, “The Holiday Song” might lack the dynamism of later Pixies songs (opting for the fast and loud-faster and louder dynamic) but it’s still one of the best.

3. “Hey”
Smooth is a word not often used to describe the Pixies. This song is smooth (albeit in the Pixies sense of the word).

2. “Debaser”
To effectively capture what makes “Debaser” a terrific song and one of the greatest opening tracks of all time, I’d need to write this entire blurb with Caps lock on. Bursting at the seams with frenetic energy, not a single note is wasted on “Debaser.” Following a very brief introduction to the bassline, the song erupts with recklessly fast guitars and the best screams of Black Francis’ career. With lyrics spouting off imagery of eyeballs being sliced open, Francis screaming in Spanish, and Deal harmonizing at precisely the right moment, “Debaser” has the Pixies at their most Pixies. Fantastic.

1. “Where Is My Mind?”
Heralded as a classic for a reason, “Where Is My Mind?” has the Pixies at their best and possibly their most contemplative. With the bulk of their work concerning unidentified flying objects, Biblical violence, and sex, “Where Is My Mind?” has Black Francis questioning his lot in life, comparing his lack of place to the swimming behavior of Caribbean fish. Howls provided by Francis and Deal are constant throughout the song but are most powerful at the very when the listener hears them unaccompanied, revealing an almost mournful quality to them.

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