Shortly before their original 1993 breakup, the Pixies delivered the last formal album we thought we’d ever hear from them, 1991’s Trompe le Monde. Since then, the story has grown to include a reunion tour that’s still running strong ten years later, a strange 2004 single to commemorate it, a solid 2006 documentary film to chronicle it, the unexpected departure of bassist Kim Deal that coincided with her other reunion tour with The Breeders last year, an overblown controversy surrounding the ousting of her replacement, another surprise one-off single, and finally, legitimate new material arriving as a series of four-song EPs: EP-1 and EP-2, thus far. The resulting eight songs are appropriately and unambiguously mixed.
OK, so when does and doesn’t this work? Let’s start with what you can go ahead and ignore right off the bat: all the cuts that strive to be gritty. These are growlers and bashers as authentic as your smile after being told to “say cheese” for a picture on its fifth take. They try, God bless ‘em, and if Frank Black had already committed all-in to this experiment anyway, then surely an attempt at recreating the venom of “Tame” or “Gouge Away” was worth it. But it’s just not there. EP-1 closer “What Goes Boom” is distastefully rudimentary on all levels, and EP-2 opener “Blue Eyed Hexe” (chorus: “Blue-eyed Hexahhh!/ Hexah hexahhh!”) is so obviously derivative of “U-Mass” it’s puzzling, and genuinely sounds like an improvised genre-parody number from Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the category being “glam metal jingle for a bacon commercial.”
As for the Pixies’ warmer, shoegazey side that yielded citrus-sweet classics like “Winterlong” and “Wave of Mutilation”? There are two songs here, particularly, that succeed on these terms. EP-1 opener “Andro Queen” is spectacularly produced, sonically meeting the exceptional standard that Black sets with an unforced, effortlessly melancholy song, while EP-2’s “Greens and Blues” takes the cake as this series’ best cut. You won’t find anything on these highlights, lyrically, to provide spiritual crutch like your favorite Pixies couplet could — and if you truly expected to, then it’s not the band who should foot the blame. But these songs are good, they have a classic-Pixies feel, they are worth repeat spins for a week or two, and they absolutely validate these EPs.
What if all eight were squeezed together onto one full-length release, and then promoted anywhere near as aggressively as any publicist should prefer? Oof. That would have been a letdown too intense for monogastric mammals. But that’s the power of the unravel; this isn’t a new Pixies album, but a pair of unassuming EPs dropped quietly, with almost zero fanfare or buildup. It’s not hard to assume that they simply wanted to set the bar middle-lowish without making a fuss, well aware they’ve been out of the game a while, and hop it adequately. They do deserve credit — and at least a half-hour of your attention, skeptical Pixies fan — for doing it this way.
Essential Tracks: “Andro Queen”, “Greens and Blues”