Forgotten Rock Gems: The Pixies’ Masterpiece
In 1987, a relatively unknown alternative band from Boston began recording one of the most influential albums of the decade, Surfer Rosa. This band, the Pixies, were new to the scene, as they formed only a year previously in ’86 and had just one album under their belt before ‘Rosa. The album has been praised for its experimental drumming, conversational soundbites, and purposefully raw production and lyrics, with many notable bands and artists naming the album as influences on their work. Most notably, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain attributed Surfer Rosa as being one of the major influences on the making of Nirvana’s grunge-defining, smash-hit record, Nevermind (1991). Oddly, the album was not a hit at the time of its release, as it failed to chart in the U.S. or U.K. However, over the years the Pixies have developed an extremely loyal fandom, so their impact on popular music has not gone unnoticed to these dedicated fans. I chose Surfer Rosa as an FRG because I feel the general public does not give the Pixies enough credit for their influence on music and on the molding of grunge. Let’s get to some of the best tracks on the album!
“Bone Machine” is the first track on the album and lets the listener know what to expect from the album right off the back. The vocals alternate from being spoken to being sung and yelled. The drum and guitar work define much of this song, while almost cutting out completely for the chorus as the male and female leads sing simultaneously for a balanced chorus. It contributes to the overall structural uniqueness, and is tough to describe in words. If I had to choose one song to define the Pixies’ sound, this would probably be it.
“Something Against You” is an entirely instrumental jam session, with the only singing being a couple screams. It features some of the more upbeat riffs on the whole album, and kind of goes all over the place while being 1:50 long. I’d call this song the beautiful mess of the album.
“Gigantic” was the lone single off of the album, only charting at #93 on the British singles chart. Compared to other songs on the album, its verses are quite slow with quiet and simple instrumentals. But it then explodes once the chorus hits. It goes from calm to heavy and back to calm over the course of the entire song. It is one of the most pleasurable, yet simple, songs to listen to on Surfer Rosa.
“Where Is My Mind?” is one of the Pixies’ most popular songs, having over 121,000,000 plays on Spotify, three times more than any other song. For me, the production stands out on this track as the guitar sounds crystal clear, which contrasts some of the more muddled guitar sounds on other songs. This song features some light acoustic guitar in the intro, which then transitions to an electric riff that repeats for much of the song.
“Vamos (Surfer Rosa)” is another jam song, with fast drums repeating almost the whole 4:25. The male lead sings fast, seemingly random thoughts that really drive home the fast-paced nature of the song. It’s another instance of organized chaos that raises the heart rate, mainly because of the lightning-fast drumming technique.
“Brick is Red” is a fitting album-ender that barely has any lyrics in only 2:02. It is calmer than some of the earlier songs, while still providing a thrilling cap to a great album.
Overall, Surfer Rosa needs to be listened as one piece of art, as the songs all compliment one another and contribute to the work as a whole. At a total length of only 34:00, the album is short and sweet, with a lot of different sounds and techniques packed into a relatively short album time. I’ve provided the album below via Spotify, so give it a listen!
“Estaba pensando sobreviviendo
Con mi sister en New Jersey”