Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Covering Our Bases - Pixies

So I'll just say it - the Pixies are the indie rock version of the Beatles. I know there are some many aspects of this statement that can be quibbled with but here we have a four-person band that came out of nowhere to shoot to the top, had a brief but incredibly intense and fruitful run, only to retire, leaving a legacy that loomed incredibly large for all the bands to follow them. Without the Pixies, massive bands like Weezer, Nirvana and Radiohead would have all sounded drastically different.

My own personal Pixies experiences cut deep as well. They were the first real "indie" band that I got into, mostly because all my friends at school liked them and I was tired of not understanding their conversations (and God bless them for that). After a childhood spent listening to classic rock and pop, the Pixies gave me just enough melody to go with their yelping, pounding drums, screeching guitars and surrealistic imagery to teach me how to find beauty in dissonance and open my mind to more challenging music (and God bless THEM for that). In this installment of Covering Our Bases we look at the best of the released Pixes covers as a way to remember the musical capital-G "greatness" of the band as well as their absolute love of fun a music. Enjoy!

**On Warmer Music Exclusive Premiere**  

Dig For Fire - Yoni Gordon  Buy Yoni Gordon's Music
Yoni Gordon was a new find for OWM in 2012, but I've quickly become totally hooked on his totally hooky brand of rock/pop/folk/soul. He's got a new album, The Hard Way coming out at the end of the summer and On Warmer Music couldn't be more excited to premier a song from it from those sessions. I always thought that its twitchy, Talking Heads vibe would make "Dig For Fire" a difficult song to cover and the fact that it's never been attempted before (far as I can tell) seemed to bear me out. Gordon, however decides to give it a striped-down soul treatment that fits the track like an old shoe. The best covers are those that manage to both pay homage to the original version while also tweaking it to reveal something totally new, this is a textbook example of how it's done.
Ed. This cover did not make the final album which means OWM is your sole source for this amazing slice of Pixies-love.

Debaser - Mother Universe  Download Hey! - A Pixies Tribute
Remember back when people still used internet forums? Back when people still thought the internet was a way to discuss things they loved, not just a way to be marketed to and avoid learning directions? Anyway, back in 2003 a bunch of fans from the forums at FrankBlack.net got together and made not one, but two Pixies tribute albums that, it must be said, are pretty damn good. Songs included "Subbacultcha" as read by a robot, a video game version of "River Euphrates" and a club dance version of "Silver". Besting all of them however was this - a feminist synth-pop cover of "Debaser". A happier version of a Pixies song I dare you to find as the wash of neon keyboards and swirling computerized effects lift you up and carry you away on a cloud of happy. Start any party with this and you can't go wrong.

Velouria - Weezer  Buy Where Is My Mind? - A Tribute To The Pixies
Speaking of "remember when", remember when Weezer wasn't a walking, cartoonish embarrassment? I mean, they've always been a little cartoonish, but they used to balance that with amazing music. Rivers Cuomo has said that the Pixies were a foundational band for him helping him transition from the hair metal of his youth to artier sounds. In fact Cuomo even sings about "want[ing] to be a singer just like Black Francis" on the demo version of "Undone (The Sweater Song)". Therefore his decision to cover the California-checking "Velouria" for a 1999 tribute album makes perfect sense. This also is perhaps the last time that the original Weezer was captured on tape in all is crunchy, 90's glory. Bathed in the wall of guitars familiar to fans of their first albums this turns the song from a theremin'd summer song into an aggressive guitar jam that pounds and bounces around for four last minutes of Pixies-inspired Weezer glory.

Levitate Me - Matthew (as The Beach Boys)  Download Matthew's Celebrity Pixies Tribute
This song comes from a project that I didn't know existed until I started writing this post but have since become obsessed with. I don't know Matthew is. I don't know why he decided to make a bunch of "celebrity covers" of Pixies songs. And frankly, I don't want to know. All I know is that some dude with access to some fantastic musicians and uncanny impersonators made the greatest fictional tribute album of all time. Every song is worth hearing from "Prince's" "Hey" to "Jimi Hendrix" tackling "Vamos" to "Tina Turner" doing "River Euphrates" it's almost uncanny valley-level reproduction, only musical and fun instead of creepy. He has "the Beach Boys" cover "Levitate Me" and the vocal harmonies and eerie pop sound work wonderfully on Frank Black's Larry Norman-inspired slice of dadaist nonsense.

Cactus - David Bowie  Buy Heathen
Speaking of compulsive covers, how about David Bowie? Anyone whose ever watched Gouge, the slobbering fanboy documentary included in the Pixies' reunion DVD in 2004 knows just how much David Bowie la la loves Frank, Kim, Joey and David but just in case you didn't, he'd already included a cover of the Surfer Rosa prison ballad and T. Rex homage "Cactus" on his 2002 album, Heathens. Bowie's version is a bit lacking on desperation and instead makes up for it with posh artifice, as might be expected. Fortunately it's David fucking Bowie so everything works out quite well. Though not on par with "It's Hard To Be a Saint in the City", you can't go wrong with this cover.

Mr. Grieves - TV On The Radio  Buy Young Liars [EP]
Jimi Hendrix once described the music of the Beach Boys as "psychedelic barbershop" and although we're past the faux celebrity covers section, it's hard to think of a better description for TV On The Radio's doo wop-y a capella version of this Doolittle classic. Released when the band was still on Touch and Go, and on the ascent, it announced loudly that the band was drawing from indie touchstones but perhaps taking them in odd new directions. I can't get through the song without wanting to snap my fingers and start singing along. Black Francis may have meant it to be a thoughtful consideration of mortality but I always saw it as a vision of death along the lines of the Clash, imagining outlaws still swinging from ropes. The classical allusions may add some depth but fundamentally this is a meditation on mortality and who woulda thought that you could add cheery four-part harmonies and still make that work? Not I.

The Happening - Julie Peel  Buy Julie Peel's music
Julie Peel is known for her lo-fi, solo guitar recordings and who woulda thought that such and approach would translate to a sci-fi epic? Bossanova was Black's surf/space album and it included "The Happening" a song that started out with a dreamy southwest pastiche and went from there. The narrative moves from a simple UFO sighting until there are flying saucers landing on the Vegas strip. The original is actually quite meditative (which fits the album's dead-of-summer, heat-stroked mentality) and Peel captures that spirit perfectly with just a guitar and her voice. The tempo, instrument and other shifts are all handled perfectly which allows the listener to just here the song as a piece of craft rather than an elaborate creation. It's to Black's credit that this "lesser" Pixes song holds up splendidly to such treatment.

Where Is My Mind? - Nada Surf
Nada Surf strays far from it's comfort zone for this cover with an electronic beat and double tracked backing vocals that combine to create an airy, loose sensation that's somehow not too far from the emotion behind the original. It's a dreamy cover, one meant to end mixtapes and send people off to either sleep or make out in total bliss, and it does that. Daniel Lorca's bass dominates the mix and helps pull thing in mellow direction but it's Matthew Caws' relaxed delivery and deameanor that sells the song. It's hard to repackage a song that's become a touchstone and enjoys very wide but shallow support, but Nada Surf does it here. End a mix with it, you'll thank me.

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