Once in a while, a band comes along and changes music. Pixies did just that in 1988 when they released their groundbreaking and incredibly abrasive debut album, Surfer Rosa. Backed by a set fund of $10,000 by (my personal favourite record label) 4AD in 1987, Pixies took on Steve Albini (who has just returned from recording the final Slint album) to work on low-fidelity and noise rock. The set up was just right, the mini album Come On Pilgrim blended what were to expect. Harsh, surreal songs with lo-fi recording and individualistic musicianship. Surfer Rosa has been noted as the album that sprung the 90's alternative music scene, including Thom Yorke and Kurt Cobain.
David Lovering plays a key part on this album. The drumming sound is quite unique and Albini has been praised for his involvement in boosting this album. The D.I.Y sound and abrasiveness of the instrumentation sends a jitter of excitement and adrenaline through the listener. On 'Bone Machine', Kim Deal plays her riff individually before the guitar riff enters and Kim's bass has been turned down. The structure is quite phenomenal and Black Francis adds to the surrealism with his screaming vocal dynamics. The 'chorus' is a slowed down, simplistic "You're the bone machine". Kim sings back up and focuses on the right side of the speaker, where Francis is primarily on the left, creating that duo format and individual stance.
'Break My Body' opens with a heavy beat and a drone guitar sound which sticks for about 14 seconds before Francis delivers his incestuous opening verse, "I'm the hard looser. You'll find me crashing through my mother's door. I am the ugly lover. You'll find us rolling on the dirty floor". It grabs my attention and so does the screeching lead guitar which Joey Santiago delivers with passion and thirst. The progression change and final 15 seconds make the track for me. It's the dynamic changes that create such a strong lo-fi and experimental feel. 'Something Against You' has an ear catching opening guitar riff which is used as the background base. The bass riff follows, as does Santiago's noisy guitar drone. it's simplistic and the layers create a lovely noise rock vibe. Francis sounds like he's screaming angrily, however this effect has been created by Steve Albini who filtered the aching Black Francis vocal through a guitar amp.
'Broken Face' is quite simply a 90 second fast paced track. The little guitar segments are fantastic, with vocal mixing sounding extraordinary even for Albini's standards. 'Gigantic' is the single and Kim sings lead. She opens with a simplistic bass riff, then a textural drum pattern follows with Kim's left sided vocals striking with layers and well recorded echo. The track was a 'single' and has a verse/chorus/verse structure. Her vocals sound experimental to say the least, the thunderous guitar towards the end closes the track with great venom. 'River Euphrates' sways in with textural guitar chords and slight notches every few seconds which have been recorded perfectly. The lack of studio effects create that alternative, D.I.Y Punk sound which the band obviously wanted. The guitar proves to be the secret ingredient, but the drumming steals the show yet again. The slightly reverb sound and hard hitting snare is mouthwatering.
As with albums of this kind, they need to have that one track which everyone knows. 'Where Is My Mind?' opens with an acoustic guitar riff and then the memorable electric guitar riff. In the background you hear Kim's simplistic bass riff which is completely separate but works in unison. Francis gives an exaggerated vocal with unusual lyrics and dynamical vocals. The track is widely known as the standout Pixies track and it's the 'Fight Club song' to others.
'Cactus' has that monotonous guitar sound and the bass follows the guitar pattern. Listening to the withdrawn vocals tells an unusual story, with Francis singing on the right speaker, sounding like Daniel Johnston in the process. Kim sings back up progressively and as you'd expect on the left speaker. 'Tony's Theme' has some great guitar structure and the drumming is again a focus. The loud vocals sound extremely unusual and the shouting mix between Kim and Francis sounds great. Then we hear the thunderous drumming on 'Oh My Golly!'. With an electric second section and cultural lyrics, the track stands out as one of the fast paced but effectful tracks on the album. The drumming sounds exquisite and the fast paced acoustic recording sticks out on the left.
Studio banter features on the track 'Vamos', with a conversation between Francis and Kim recorded (purposely) by Albini. It opens with an acoustic guitar riff which is simplistic and let's the Spanish vocals enter, before the monotonous drum beat enters and the electric guitar screeches on. Santiago comes into action on this track, playing parallel to the vocals between Kim and Francis. The instrumental segment towards the end speeds the track up and the bass comes into focus, with the drumming turning corners over the repetitive beat. Francis gives some screaming and his high pitched vocal segments are met with Santiago's comical guitar solo's.
'I'm Amazed' starts with the comical Kim Deal vocal conversation segment which sounds slightly gimmicky, but has realism in the following vocals performed by Francis and Kim. Their vocals have been recorded experimentally and are obscured by the thumping drumming ans lightning guitar work yet again. It's a fast paced track and paves the way for the final track, 'Brick Is Red', to enter. It's clearly an outro and the progression shows this. The guitar work is quite flat but sounds plucky and jagged. The drumming is compact and is stop, start much alike the bass. it's a great way to end the album and Francis gives a short vocal before they pull the plug on the 33 minute album.