Friday, September 01, 2006

Pixies: Albini and Surfer Rosa

Play it: Pixies Surfer Rosa
Play it: Pixies - Peel Session (03.05.88)*
Play it: Pixies - Peel Sesson (09.10.88)*
Cue up to play pages 91-130 of Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies

(Continuation from previous posts of music to listen to while reading Fool the World.)

After Come On Pilgrim and their subsequent European tour created a stir in the UK, 4AD's Ivo Wats-Russell got the Pixies back in the studio right away, and suggested Steve Albini, based on the buzzsaw sound he acheived with his band Big Black. Albini had only a handful of projects under his belt by this point, and had already built up a reputation as being rather prickly, so it was a bit of a gamble pairing him up with musicians who were both a bit naive and green.

Four songs carried over from The Purple Tape ("Break My Body," "Broken Face," "I'm Amazed" and a re-worked "Vamos") are perfect examples of how Albini's production upped the ante on their songs. Thompson had written other songs on tour and a few in the studio that fleshed out the rest of the album, and Albini amused himself by recording conversations and splicing them into the album. "You F*ckin' Die" is an example of Albini having some fun... he pretends not to hear the first part of their conversation and has Thompson back-pedalling to explain why he's threatening Kim Deal (with "you F*ckin' Die".)

But what really comes out in the album is the drum sound. Albini had (has) a knack for capturing a room's sound through some unconventional (still deemed that way for some reason) methods of mic setup. A strong drummer like David Lovering sounds that much better in Albini's hands. Surfer Rosa, in a sense, became the beacon for the sound of the alternative genre. The album could be said to be both the band's and Albini's launching point for their careers. A direct result of this album came projects from high profile artists Nirvana (In Utero) and PJ Harvey (Rid of Me.) Before those projects came his way, though, Albini looked back and took a few jabs at the band.
A patchwork pinch loaf from a band who at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rocks. Their willingness to be 'guided' by their manager, their record company and their producers is unparalleled. Never have I seen four cows more anxious to be led around by their nose rings.
- Steve Albini on recording Surfer Rosa, Forced Exposure, no. 17, 1991
Albini's since apologized for those remarks, and even acknowleding that he "behaved like an ass" during the recordings. But that's Albini for you... he's not afraid to contradict his own contradictions, and really that's a small part of what makes him such a vital character in the music industry.

At the behest of 4AD, Pixies re-mixed "Gigantic" with the idea of releasing it as their first single. This led to two things - the first strain in the relationship between Charles Thompson and Kim Deal (she sings lead,) and second a new relationship with a 'less prickly' producer/engineer Gil Norton, who did the mixing.


*Compiled from the 1988 compilation Pixies at the BBC, which is great except for it's maddening track order (why not chronological?)

Previously:
Pixies: Sing for your supper
Pixies: The Purple Tape

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3 comments:

drake leLane said...

Pixies - Surfer Rosa

1. Bone Machine
2. Break My Body
3. Something Against You
4. Broken Face
5. Gigantic
6. River Euphrates
7. Where Is My Mind?
8. Cactus
9. Tony's Theme
10. Oh My Golly!
11. You Fuckin Die!
12. Vamos
13. I'm Amazed
14. Brick Is Red

drake leLane said...

Pixies - Peel Session (03.05.88)

* "Levitate Me" - Pixies
* "Hey" - Pixies
* "Lady In The Radiator Song, (In Heaven)" - Pixies
* "Wild Honey Pie" - Pixies
* "Caribou" - Pixies

drake leLane said...

Pixies - Peel Sesson (09.10.88)

* "There Goes My Gun" - Pixies
* "Manta Ray" - Pixies
* "Dead" - Pixies