by Scott Thill

Not sure that 2004 will shape up to be a banner year for music? Then take a peek at this excellent news: The Pixies are reuniting.

For those of you who didn't just wet yourselves, this means that the band that helped shape the face of alternative rock over the last decade will once again be onstage with its full complement. If you pick a band, any band, that's been in the modern rock game since the late '80s, they'll probably tell you that it was Black Francis and his band of noisemakers that first inspired them to pick up a guitar or bass and let it rip. Kurt Cobain would tell you the same, if he was alive; after all, he's already explained that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a Pixies rip-off. Radiohead? Pixies fans. Bowie? Covered their music the minute it came out.

In other words, this is somewhat tantamount to an alternative rock Beatles reunion.

The Pixies will be hitting the road to warm up for a headline gig at California's mammoth Coachella Music Festival, so there's no time like the present to get reacquainted with them. In that vein, I've decided to review each of their albums -- one per column -- starting at the beginning, to hip you cats not in the know to what may someday be the music that changes your life. If it hasn't already.

Let's begin the begin.

Pixies, Come On Pilgrim

It's hard to listen to this eight-song EP and believe that it was more or less the band's first demo tape, one that 4AD's Ivo Watts had to hear only once to realize that he had a punk-pop phenomenon on his hands. Although that legendary demo -- named "The Purple Tape" by bootleggers -- would be released in 2002 simply as Pixies, Come On Pilgrim was the Pixies de facto debut, and it was a barnburner. Boasting incendiary rockers like "Isla de Encanta" and "Holiday Song" and moody nuggets like "Caribou" that barely pushed the three-minute mark, Come On Pilgrim was an early, ear-shattering glimpse of a band that could revolutionize what at the time were the sometimes disparate sounds and styles of punk and pop in the vein of standouts like The Ramones. The EP would eventually be appended to the Pixies next joint, Surfer Rosa, but it still stands on its own to this day.

Black Heart Procession, Tropics of Love (DVD)
Black Heart Procession/Solbakken, In the Fishtank 11

One of the most atmospheric indie bands in the known universe decided to skip doing a new album in 2004, but that doesn't mean they didn't have anything to do. BHP's Pall Jenkins has always had his fingers in a few pies; while fronting the art-punk outfit Three Mile Pilot he decided to write a book, and now he has turned 2002's outstanding Black Heart release, Amore Del Tropico, into a sunshine-streaked film noir. Using a mini-DV camera, a bunch of friends, and more DIY elbow grease than you'll find in Fugazi's basement, Pall and company have created a strange, low-budget David Lynch fever dream about a suspicious patsy named Luigi (BHP's own Dimitri Dziensuwski) who's hilariously overwhelmed by the forces arrayed against him. Caught up in a murder that he may or may not have committed, Luigi tries to keep his sanity intact and love alive as everyone else beats the crap out him. While he, in almost Buster Keaton fashion, barely changes his befuddled expression. Priceless!

Black Heart Procession also teamed up with the Dutch label Konkurrent's house band, Solbakken, for two fun days, churning out another entry (number 11, to be precise) for the label's collaborative series, In the Fishtank. Although BHP fans might want a new album, this six-song EP featuring the band's patented operatic experimentation ought to hold them over until 2005, when the new joint is expected. Don't miss it.

RJD2, Since We Last Spoke

Straight outta Ohio! Electronic music has exploded into so many genres and forms that it's getting hard to say who is honestly a master of such an expansive domain. DJ Shadow comes immediately to mind, as does Amon Tobin. Now is officially the time to add RJD2 to that list. His first album 'Deadringer' was a critical success and a masterpiece to boot; this time around, he's exploded the formula and taken some risks, and it all pays off. Using salsa, samba, '70s soul, 21st-century space funk and whatever else he found in the stacks at record stores you won't even visit anymore, the multifaceted DJ has upped the bar for turntablists to come.

The title track, a prog guitar stomp that starts and stops in funked-up fits, is the meat of the matter here, but the album's downtempo, soulful middle is the real deviation. The soft-as-silk "Making Days Longer" is a poignant echo of Shadow's own "Six Days," while "Someone's Second Kiss" and "To All of You" feel like the stirring soundtracking for Barry White's bedroom. Released on Def Jux, the well-respected indie hip-hop label started by El-P, Since We Last Spoke is the finest, most daring hip-hop album released so far this year.


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© Melt Magazine 2004