Pixies - Head Carrier (Inc Slipmat)
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Though they crafted a signature -- and endlessly copied -- style, Pixies' music never stayed in the same place for long. During their early years, the band relished change, moving from Come on Pilgrim's scrappy apocalyptic visions to Doolittle's gleaming pop to Trompe Le Monde's riff-rock at a rapid pace. Indeed, it could be argued that part of the reason their 2014 comeback Indie Cindy underwhelmed was because it tried too hard to recapture the past. On Head Carrier, Pixies usher in more than a few changes, the biggest being bassist Paz Lenchantin. Replacing a member may be inconsequential for some bands, but for this one, it's a big deal (pun intended): Founding bassist Kim Deal departed prior to Indie Cindy, and the use of a session player on the album only underscored that a vital part of the group's appeal was missing. Thanks to Lenchantin, Pixies sound like a full -- if slightly different -- band again, whether she's sweetening "Oona"'s crunch with her harmonies or helping shape the album's character in general. The rest of the band's ease at having her in the fold is audible, and Head Carrier is a surprisingly nice album. "Classic Masher" and "Bel Esprit" recall the amiable jangle of "Here Comes Your Man" and the band's cover of "Winterlong," and the easygoing vibe continues on "All the Saints"' slo-mo surf and "Plaster of Paris." However, the niceness turns strange on "All I Think About Now." A musical thank-you note to Deal written by Black Francis and sung by Lenchantin that shamelessly borrows from "Where Is My Mind?," it manages to be both jarring and overly nostalgic. As on Indie Cindy, when the band looks back too much, it feels forced; "Baals Back" is shrieky and Biblical, but lacks the true oddness of their best songs about fire and brimstone. Fortunately, the high-speed chase that is "Um Chagga Lagga" and the roaring title track are in the vein of Pixies' classic rockers without feeling contrived. "Talent" is even better, a piece of satirical, snotty garage-rock that reaffirms Francis doesn't need to sing about the Bible or aliens to let loose. While it feels like Pixies are still figuring out how to continue their legacy, Head Carrier's best moments suggest they're heading in the right direction.