Quirky, catchy melodies have always been Pixies’ calling card and on Beneath the Eyrie, their third post-reunion album, the alt-rock icons indulge everything from jaunty, old-timey Kurt Weill oom-pah rhythms to 10-foot waves of surf guitar. Frontman and chief songwriter Black Francis has said that the group embraced their most “gothic” urges with the record’s music (though he never comes off sounding like Rozz Williams) and the album is a bit darker and a little more muted than their other recent offerings.
That’s probably because two of the band’s members have gone through significant life changes since they wrote their last album, 2016’s Head Carrier: Francis went through a divorce and guitarist Joey Santiago went to rehab. So a lot of the music sounds like they’re chasing feelings. The pleading, contemplative “Ready for Love” is a wish and a hope for romance with rhythms that stutter like a Beatles song, and it works because of the way Francis’ gritty voice blends with Lenchantin’s smooth backups. The jaunty drinking song “This Is My Fate,” with its percussion punchlines, sounds like a band in search of the next whiskey bar. “Graveyard Hill” is the most classic Pixies-sounding track, a close cousin of the angsty guitar riffs of “Gigantic,” with its quiet-LOUD-quiet structure and Francis’ tale of a gorgeous witch.
Luckily, Francis’ well-sharpened senses of melody and humor guide them through the duskiness for a few memorable moments, such as the surfy “St. Nazaire,” lycanthropic spaghetti western drama of “Silver Bullet,” and the folky “Catfish Kate,” on which he sings about the titular heroine and “the time before, when she’s just Kate.” Just like Kate, the Pixies sound caught between worlds. They’re trapped in the dusk on most of the album, and it’s the few beacons of light here, when they sound like they’re all having fun, that cut through the darkness and make for great Pixies songs.