Pixies have made it pretty clear in recent years that, frankly, they’re getting a little too worn out for the yelps, shrieks and piercing guitars of their adolescence. Settling nicely into Frank Black’s country grooves the band have mellowed in their releases, Beneath the Eyrie being no exception.
It was difficult to know what to expect with a world tour of their latest album; the worry that I’d gotten my hopes up for a surprise appearance of ‘I’ve Been Tired’ or ‘Nimrod’s Son’ was almost debilitating. With such a cult-like fanbase it would have been impossible to fulfil the wishes of every unshakable Trompe Le Monde buff on site, with at least a handful of the crowd crying for a rendition of ‘that B-side they did once that only exists by word of mouth’ or a 1988 debuted cover of ‘a classic’.
Yet as time went by and their arrival onto the O2 Academy’s stage crept closer, I couldn’t help but feel that high hopes weren’t going to be unwarranted.
Erupting into ‘Gouge Away’, I knew then my gut had pointed me in the right direction. Pixies weren’t here to tiptoe; this was floorboard-rattling, neighbour-waking material that pleased all the right people and pissed all the wrong ones off. A set peppered with phenomenal renditions of fan favourites made it nearly impossible to go without for more than a few minutes, even the pickiest were brought to a grinding halt when the likes of ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ‘Planet of Sound’ were plucked from the hat.
The new album provided a breather in the set; thrashing and flaying ensued during the haphazardly selected relics of Come on Pilgrim and Doolittle, the latest ‘Silver Bullet’ and ‘Ready for Love’ alternatively offering a brief moment of reflection. Not just because they lack excitement, which undeniably they do, but also because we’re yet to warm to them.
Still, there’s no better way to fall in love than face to face, and Pixies are aiming for nothing less than head over heels with Beneath the Eyrie on tour. Snatching hearts one by one, Francis is leaving no survivors this lap of the globe.
Pixies – with support from The Big Moon @ 02 Academy (B’ham) 16.09.19 / Phil Drury (2324 Photography)
It feels necessary for this review to come with a cover letter of sorts. When it comes to Pixies, I’m a diehard. In my eyes, Francis can do no wrong.
Yet, on receiving a copy of new album Beneath the Eyrie, I knew I needed to put my Surfer Rosa loving, Trompe Le Monde abiding ways behind me. So, this is it – welcome, not to a shrine, but to a review.
I’ve never heard anyone say their favourite album by Pixies is Indie Cindy, and if they did I’d hurtle a copy of anything else in their discography at them and declare them criminally insane. What made, and continues to make, Pixies so goddamn great is their unadulterated strangeness, rage and ability to make you sick to your stomach.
In the same way Indie Cindy is good but lacking in the musto-gusto, Beneath the Eyrie just ain’t their best. It’s passive in parts, lacking the otherworldly force you know exists but can’t quite put your finger on, and kind of pussyfoots its way through twelve tracks. For Pixies, a vast chunk of this album is unremarkable; a strong start dwindles away into records that play it safe, occasionally throwing a much needed wild-card in there to grab your attention again as the mind wanders.
Yet there are still some real gems to find on here. Album opener, ‘In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain’, makes for one of the best on the record – setting the tone for a surprisingly consistent forty minute ride of more subdued Pixies material. Standard biblical omens and a strong riff are all they need to get my attention, and in the first few minutes I’m feeling satisfied. Promotional single, ‘On Graveyard Hill’ features our beloved screeches and howls from Francis himself – no doubt as a demonstration that hey, the kid’s still got it and he’s not afraid to let us have it.
We then slip into the mediocre, which makes it even more infuriating when they throw a kicker in the mix with ‘St. Nazaire’. One of the best modern Pixies tracks to date, it feels wasted on an album that for the most part doesn’t deserve to possess such a, for want of a better word, kick-ass track. The musical lull perishes and suddenly there’s fire here; this is exactly what I wanted from the whole album and failed to get from pretty much anything else on it.
Nevertheless, it must be noted that what Beneath the Eyrie lacks in strength it regains in its storytelling ability. It seems to me that a choice has arisen with this record, a choice between weaving fiction and sounding mighty had splayed itself on the table, and for most tracks Pixies have sacrificed the power for the fable. The carefully fashioned imagery of ‘Catfish Kate’ and ‘Silver Bullet’ stand as a reminder of that, crafting complex stories that can sway you to forget what it is they’re missing.
So, do I like it? Of course I do, and so will everyone else. It’s great. It’s fantastic, even. But does it give me the fuck yeah feeling I was gifted with Trompe Le Monde, or even Head Carrier? No.
There’s nothing wrong with this record just being good. With a back catalogue as strong as that of Pixies, there’s no harm in dropping a, let’s say, ‘filler-not-killer’ into the mix. Three years ago, Head Carrier threw us right back to the band at their finest hour; tracks like ‘Baal’s Back’ and ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ quelling all doubts that they’d ripened and gone soft.
Maybe if Beneath the Eyrie wasn’t preceded by such a formidable force of an album I’d be concerned, but instead this feels like the calm after the storm.
‘On Graveyard Hill’ – Pixies
Pixies release Beneath the Eyrie on Friday 13th September, out on Infection/BMG and available through all the usual online outlets. For more on Pixies, including links to online sales, visit www.pixiesmusic.com
Sam Hollis released his debut album, If Ever, Could You Imagine?, earlier this year and isn’t wasting anytime releasing even more music. His new single, ‘Miranda’ – featuring Harry Price, Lewis Pick and Nep, produced by Hollis and Ego Boy – doesn’t disappoint.
‘Miranda’ follows the same new wave/low-fi jazz genre that Hollis so effortlessly pulls off, the chorus effect that dominates the guitar works perfectly to create this atmospheric indie sound. The vocals are so incredibly smooth and soft; Nep and Hollis’ voices work beautifully against one another – a great collaborative sound that fits this song perfectly.
The drum pattern defines the change between verse and chorus, starting with minimalistic electronic percussion then transitioning into a more jazz inspired acoustic beat that complements the style of the guitar.
On his debut album, Hollis bought together people from across the globe to collaborate and create music – Nep featured on the track ‘All That I Want’. It’s good to see that Hollis clearly has a passion for involvement in music; Nep is a young American girl who has only released one original song as of yet, but has featured on three other albums and singles as well as ‘Miranda’. Hollis using his platform to share this girl’s voice represents one of music’s most important achievements – inclusion.
‘Miranda’ is incredibly relaxing whilst also being an interesting listen, something I think is relatively hard to achieve. The lyrics sang in this soft outspoken manner read very intelligently, the song writing telling a story that makes you think and feel – but not too much.
It’s easy to see and hear that Sam Hollis has a crazy amount of passion for music, which he backs up with great talent both in writing and performing.
Sam Hollis releases his latest single, ‘Miranda’, on Friday 2nd August – available through the usual online platforms. For more on Sam Hollis, visit www.soundcloud.com/samhollis-2
NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.
To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.
Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen is her sixth venture into the world of directing, and features a primarily female fronted cast, led by Rachelle Vinberg in her first feature length film. Vinberg plays Camille, an isolated teenager who enjoys nothing more than skateboarding and scrolling through her Instragram feed.
Upon following the female skateboarding collective ‘The Skate Kitchen’ closely on the platform, she attends one of their meet ups in NYC and quickly befriends them. From this Camille begins to navigate adolescence with her new friends in tow, as opposed to being alone with her mum in their suburban Long Island house.
I didn’t know what to except when going into the preview – organised by Film Hub Midlands in conjunction with Telford & Wrekin Council – having avoided researching the film until I was able to catch a screening. But I imagined it would be more of a documentary that focuses on the technical side of skateboarding. And despite this not being the forefront of the film, it was still woven successfully into the narrative to create a good balance of realism and fiction. You’re able to see that Moselle’s approach to the subject is authentic and well researched; indeed, the writer/director initially approached The Skate Kitchen girls after seeing them on the subway and was curious to know more, which is what spawned the making of the eponymous film.
At its core though, Skate Kitchen is not just a skateboarding documentary or drama piece but a modern coming of age film – one that is primarily (and successfully) directed towards females, as opposed to the relationship between them and their male peers which can often be the focus of such films. Although Skate Kitchen does touch upon this too.
Compiled of relative newcomers (apart from Jaden Smith), the cast is what makes Skate Kitchen unique and charming. The girls aren’t trying to fit into their assigned roles and the characters they play just seem like an extension of themselves, which makes sense given Moselle’s approach to the film. Due to the ease of their performances and how natural their chemistry is, it makes Skate Kitchen feel authentic and intimate, like a fly on the wall witnessing real life conversations amongst a group of girlfriends. There are no weak performances within the cast, with each member bringing a distinct personality and something individual to the film. I felt this particularly extended to Janay (Ardelia Lovelace), whose character is played with such realism it almost felt like a documentary; Lovelace is really enjoyable and interesting to watch which makes it easy to invest, emphasise, and root for her throughout.
Skate Kitchen’s strengths go further than being well cast and directed; the film doesn’t just explore the world of females occupying the typically male dominated domain of skateboarding, but goes beyond that to incorporate the classic coming of age tropes in a fresh, modern way. This makes it accessible to those in their teenage years, especially female viewers.
Topics that are typically shied away from are spoken about and shown in length; scenes where Camille discusses periods, tampons, sexuality, and family relationships are dealt with frankly and with blunt honesty – mainly from Kurt (played affectionately and charismatically by Nina Moran). It’s through this approach that Skate Kitchen does the job of expelling and diminishing stigma around such natural issues, alerting audiences to the fact that these are simply normal.
Concepts such as fractured families, finding freedom, body dysmorphia, and first loves are also shown throughout the course of the film, but none of them feel underdeveloped or skimmed over, with all of them fitting comfortably within the film’s narrative.
The only pitfall is that despite having strong themes, it didn’t feel as though there was much of a definitive plot to Skate Kitchen. There was no big, main, end goal. But this doesn’t detract too much, as the film presents itself as more of an exploration of coming of age as opposed to a succinct story about it. In a way this even works to the film’s favour, as it makes it more true to life; Skate Kitchen still ends up where it needs to.
Although I did feel this issue diminished the opportunity to develop certain narratives, especially when it came to Camille’s relationship with her mum – played by Elizabeth Rodriguez (better known from her performance as Aleida Diaz in Orange is the New Black). At the beginning of the film, Camille’s mum is a constant on screen – banning her daughter from skating after she ‘credit cards’ herself on the board. Camille disregards this and, to add insult to injury, starts travelling to New York regularly to meet up and practice with the girls from The Skate Kitchen.
Halfway into the film their mother-daughter relationship is in pieces, but it suddenly becomes secondary and fades into the background with them only reconciling briefly on screen near the end. When they do reconcile it’s still touching, and the scenes of Camille holding her mum’s hand whilst guiding her precariously down the street on her board are some of my favourites from the whole film. Yet it would have been nice to see them resolve their issues in a full scene – or for the mum’s narrative to be woven in more evenly throughout the whole film, as opposed to heavily then not at all.
This point also extends to her relationship with The Skate Kitchen girls, after their explosive falling out near the end we don’t see them make up again and it would have been interesting to see how this played out on screen. Although, again, this isn’t necessarily a negative – this approach shows how insignificant and irrelevant teenage arguments can be in the grander scheme, and how things can go back to normal. Rather than showing a scene where they make up verbally, we end with shots of all the girls skating carefree down New York streets with nothing but music, shots of their boards, faces, and the city.
Overall, Skate Kitchen isn’t a film I will be eagerly waiting to re-watch, but I think it’s an important, heart warming, and entertaining film to put on your list. Also the influx of these films – namely ones that are female written and directed, and feature a female dominated cast – are important. They show a perspective not present in a lot of mainstream films and address issues or topics that are often missing too, especially amongst a female teenage or young adult audience – an agenda the UK distribution company for Skate Kitchen, Modern Films, has been working hard to promote.
The use of protagonists from different cultural, racial, and economic backgrounds is also a strong tool in storytelling, and allows film to be more readily accessible to a wider range of people. Not only that, but through sharing female experiences via film, audiences can find solace, solidarity, education and guidance that they may be lacking in the public sphere and it opens up a dialogue for certain issues and topics.
Diversity within film has always been important and although there is still a long way to go, with films like Skate Kitchen the future of fair representation does seem a little brighter.
Skate Kitchen – official trailer
Skate Kitchen (rated certificate 15) is out on general release, with screenings at Midlands Art Centre from 12th to 17th October. For more details, including a full programme schedule and links to online bookings, visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk/event/skate-kitchen-boarders