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Joey Santiago is in love.
The object of Joey’s desire is his band’s new album, Head Carrier. The Pixies’ guitarist may have finished recording it months ago, but he remains utterly smitten. He takes it to bed and discovers little details he hadn’t noticed before. Santiago’s giddiness might come as a surprise. This isn’t his first time, after all. Head Carrier is the seventh Pixies album, in a lifespan stretching back 30 years to their formation in Boston, Massachusetts. But there is, the guitarist notes, a new element to the Pixies’ DNA this time.
Recorded in just three weeks, Head Carrier has the sonic hallmarks of a classic Pixies album – tungsten guitar riffage, sun-soaked harmonies, rhythmic pummel and lyrical intrigue – while never pandering to nostalgia. Aligned to its palpably fresh momentum, many of its songs have a poignant undertow, acknowledging its creators’ real time/real life journey. At least three, according to Black Francis, “fall into the sour grapes love song category”, though two of these – “Classic Masher” and “Bel Esprit” – feel quite exultant. The title track and “Plaster Of Paris,” meanwhile, share a somewhat thematic kinship, though the linkage is worthy of a cryptic crossword setter, turning upon the grisly fate of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris.
Whitney make casually melancholic music that combines the wounded drawl of Townes Van Zandt, the rambunctious energy of Jim Ford, the stoned affability of Bobby Charles, the American otherworldliness of The Band, and the slack groove of early Pavement. Their debut, Light Upon marks the culmination of a short, but incredibly intense, creative period for the band. To say that Whitney is more than the sum of its parts would be a criminal understatement. Formed from the core of guitarist Max Kakacek and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich, the band itself is something bigger, something visionary, something neither of them could have accomplished alone. The band itself is something bigger, something visionary, something neither of them could have accomplished alone.
Ehrlich had been a member of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but left to play drums for the Smith Westerns, where he met guitarist Kakacek. That group burned brightly but briefly, disbanding in 2014 and leaving its members adrift. Brief solo careers and side-projects abounded, but nothing clicked. Making everything seem all the more fraught: both of them were going through especially painful breakups almost simultaneously, the kind that inspire a million songs, and they emerged emotionally bruised and lonelier than ever.