“We’re a dysfunctional band,” confesses drummer David Lovering. “But when you get older, it’s not that you get wiser, it’s just that you learn how to put up with everyone’s shit a little better!”

It’s that fragmented dynamic yet timeless sound which has infused every record from the Boston rockers since forming back in 1986. Their sixth effort is no exception. Yet looking back, the band’s future was certainly up in the air after the group split in ‘91, following the release of fourth album Trompe le Monde.

25 years later and the beloved four-piece have dropped their highly anticipated follow-up to 2014’s Indie Cindy, finished in merely three weeks. While recording demos in Toronto, the group met English producer Tom Dalgety (Royal Blood, Ghost), soon hiring him “over dinner”.

This was a new venture for The Pixies, breaking away from long-time producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World) in what guitarist Joey Santiago describes as the need to “get out of our comfort zone. We had to find a tough audience per se, and that means a different producer.”

YouTube VideoPlay

The band may have characterised the record as directly transitioning from their fifth release from two years ago. Yet it also has surprising flecks of their debut record Surfer Rosa which give a subtle, if perhaps subconscious nod to what bassist Paz Lenchantin calls “their beautiful past”.

This is no more apparent than on the drum-driven album-opener and title track, sonically telling the tragic story of Christian martyr and saint Denis. It’s the melody which really harks back to Surfer Rosa track ‘Bone Machine’, along with its catchy riff, a medium tempo and Santiago’s signature high wailing guitar.

It’s quickly apparent that the group have long-since nailed the art of crafting short yet timeless tunes, with ‘Classic Masher’ bringing back the vibe of an ‘80s movie soundtrack. Then ‘Baal’s Back’ serves as an early highlight, paying homage to the ancient deity on a bed of infectious riffing, while Black Francis showcases his guttural side.

‘Might As Well Be Gone’ is the first track on the record though to bring the ominous vibe that screams The Pixies. A sick drum intro from Lovering and the gloomy yet clear guitar sound hammer in that melancholy, while Francis’ harmonies with Lenchantin also shine through.

This carries seamlessly over to ‘Oona’, subtly reminiscent of ‘Gigantic’ from Surfer Rosa, with the bassist’s voice mimicking the chugging guitar intro. It’s on this tune and the most raucous track on the album, ‘Talent’, where her bass lines truly glue the group together. It’s also here where Francis makes a rhymed, cheeky nod to prolific American actor Jack Palance.

Cuts like ‘Tenement Song’ and ‘All I Think About Now’ speak to the album’s emotional core without living too much in the past. Featuring Lenchantin’s ethereal yet hard-hitting vocals, while the latter song is the simplest on the album instrumentally, it’s this exact thing that renders the track so powerful. From Lenchantin’s two-year tenure, it’s clear that she has both respected “the path that she’s (Kim Deal, long-time bassist) given me”, and added her own unique dimension to this current Pixies era.

‘Um Chagga Lagga’, invoking visceral imagery of the rural roadside prostitution in France and Belgium, brings a great change in pace and energy. Francis delivers his crudest vocals on the album to an amplified, lo-fi sound reflective of times spent recording a band on tape while banging in a garage. Then ‘Plaster of Paris’, admittedly stepping off the gas a little, is still fairly upbeat. Santiago also uses a variety of textures well, contrasting his classic clean sound with a twangy tone.

It’s then a big bass drum sound which drives the slow closing track ‘All the Saints’, and the vocals take a backseat here. However, while there’s a good combination of distorted and acoustic guitar, it’s ultimately a disappointing end to a stellar record, with things ending too abruptly for any kind of resolution.

Despite an underwhelming finale, Head Carrier proves that, 30 years later, The Pixies still have plenty left to give.

Score: 8 / 10

Go for a nostalgia trip while celebrating this new Pixies era with Head Carrier, available here. Otherwise, find out where the rock legends are playing near you when they head down early next year, dates below.


Thursday, 2nd March – Riverstage, Brisbane
Saturday, 4th March – Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
Tuesday, 7th March -Hordern Pavilion, Sydney

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine