Pixies – “Indie Cindy”

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.juno.co.uk)

Grade: D

Key Tracks: “Bagboy” “Magdalena 318”

Surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear recently played at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction with some rotating singers – Joan Jett, St. Vincent, Kim Gordon and, unpredictably, Lorde (and J. Mascis in an afterparty). It was only the third time they had performed together after Kurt Cobain’s death, the first two times being with Sir Paul McCartney. In that time, they only recorded one new song (with Sir Paul). The men have been very careful not to alter the band’s legacy in any way, and the only performances have honored both their own music and Cobain’s life.

Pixies, sadly, have gone the way of almost every other early 90′s band – Alice in Chains, Sublime, Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, Hole, Blind Melon – in reforming with a different lineup in a move that seems just shamelessly capitalistic. (Exceptions, of course – Soundgarden kept the same lineup, Pearl Jam and Radiohead are still going strong). Their first album in 23 years, “Indie Cindy” captures almost none of their perverse magic of the past. While it isn’t a horrendous album, it’s wildly, wildly inconsistent and is usually content being just a footnote to the band’s career rather than trying to expand on it.

There’s a lot to pick apart on the album. The most obvious, and most painful thing to note is that none of these 12 songs are necessarily new. Pixies released three EP’s, four songs each, from the end of last year to just last month. “Indie Cindy” is simply those 12 songs put together and reordered. At the tail end of an era where bands are reforming in the name of capitalism, this seems like the biggest moneygrab of them all.

For the most part, the music itself isn’t bad. It just isn’t Pixies. Pixies made a name for themselves (and influenced a whole decade of music that followed them) by creating wholly unpredictable music that was both melodic and noisy, with lyrics often about violence and mutilation. Yet there was a radio-friendly quality to the music that bridged the gap between radio alternative and underground bands. Here, most of the songs are closer to straight radio rock, ranging anywhere from decent to totally forgettable.

The album’s best songs are the ones were there are many things going on. “Bagboy” is a prime example – it’s partially spoken word, with heavy guitar rhythms and a few different percussion things going on. And “Magdalena 318,” which has a more industrial and grungier feel to it, easily the album’s best song. Too many of the songs are too straightforward, lacking energy and any real creativity. “Greens and Blues,” “Silver Snails” and “Snakes,” as just three examples, are three melodic and rounded alternative songs, but ones that are instantly forgettable. The good tracks on this album are diamonds in the rough, and there’s a lot of sifting to go through.

Besides the music, Black Francis’ vocals are inconsistent, too. There’s none of the screaming and unpredictability, but he hits some classic Pixies vocals – at points. On “Magdalena 318″ and “Blue Eyed Hexe,” his voice sounds just like it used to. Yet elsewhere his vocals are pretty average, contributing to the very average quality of the music. And on “Andro Queen,” his vocals are downright bad, with the song sounding like some cut track from a trippy 60′s band.

From the time that the Pixies first reunited to the time they actually put out “Indie Cindy,” two things happened – they lost Kim Deal, the equally creative force behind their earlier music (and have yet to find a permanent replacement), and they surpassed the amount of time in which they were a band in their first run. That should be indicative of the album – the time it took to put out one album in 2014 is longer than the time it took them to put out four studio albums and an EP in the early 90′s. “Indie Cindy” is passable as an alternative album, but it never has any idea what it wants to be. Occasionally, the band tries to grasp at their amazing legacy. But usually, they’re comfortable with sorely unremarkable alternative/”butt-rock” songs, and there’s simply no reason for this album to exist. It takes their legacy down a notch; adds an asterisk onto the ends of some legendary albums. “Indie Cindy,” to put it honestly, will please the local alternative radio DJ’s, but not the station’s listeners.

If you like this, try: I don’t exactly know what to recommend here, but if you’re into this album then you’re probably really into 90’s music rebirthed so I’d recommend Soundgarden’s surprisingly passable 2012 album “King Animal” or Smashing Pumpkins’ great 2007 album “Zeitgeist.”

-By Andrew McNally

The Civil Wars – “The Civil Wars”

(Photo Credit: Rolling Stone)

Grade: B+/A-

Key Tracks: “The One That Got Away,” “Devil’s Backbone”

A band name and bleak album cover have never sounded so apropos, as the Civil Wars release their second album amid public fighting. The folksy duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White have been having trouble making their partnership work lately, something that has not been kept secret from the media’s eye. While it is awful to have a group – especially a duo – struggling to make their magic work, the resulting product is a beautifully tormented album of folksy sadness and acoustic ballads. Whatever is happening over at the Civil Wars home base, they have pushed through to release music as planned, and although only some of the tension seeps through the album, we’re left with a whole album of strung together painful memories and broken hearts, always sounding beautiful and never too mellow or self-indulgent.

Save two covers – Etta James’ “Tell Mama” and a surprising, lyric-only cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” – Williams and White share writing duties on every song (alongside a few other names). Williams seems to get a majority of the vocal duties, however, getting many moments to shine her powerful and remorseful voice. Parts of “Tell Mama” have the instruments cut out almost entirely behind Williams’ singing. White still gets his moments. Closer “D’Arline” sees him expanding his vocal wings too. Some tracks, like single “From This Valley,” feature some beautiful harmonies ripped right out of a CSNY song. Both singers have strong voices, ones that can intensify the sadness and the internal tension.

“The Civil Wars” is very light on music. Few songs feature more than an acoustic guitar and violin, if even the latter. This album is low-key folk to the max (or better yet, the min), focusing on the strength of the vocals and lyrics. Luckily, the tempos are constantly switched out. The album is never too slow, bolstered by a pleasant number of faster tracks. People that are not too into the light nature of the album might find it tedious by the end, but it stands as a beautiful piece of folk art that maintains a message without overstaying it’s welcome. “The Civil Wars” might be the most accurate album title of the year. Let’s hope they can work through everything and keep going.

If you like this, try: I don’t need to plug this band, but Fleet Foxes. Both albums of theirs are more harmonized, folksy sadness, albeit with a little more instrumentation.

-By Andrew McNally