October Album Review – Pixies, Drive-By Truckers and Bon Iver

A very US focused review his month, perhaps appropriate given next week’s election.

Let’s start with a guest review, from Ian Milligan of Trade Extensions. We got talking about music at their recent conference and he promised us a review… we welcome other contributions!

Head Carrier is the second album from The Pixies since their last re-union and it is definitely more of a return then the last offering. Frank Black has woven some trademark pop-like elements into the band’s offerings and whilst the album has some punk attitude in places it lacks the edge the band had in the earlier stages of their career.

That said "Baal's Back" definitely shows the band can both bring the aggressive nature of vocals over layers of well-constructed melodies, a nice balance and maybe a reflection of the band themselves in a track which runs to just under 2 minutes. As a difficult second album of a second incarnation this is very much worth a listen.  Personally, I was hoping this might be a return to the sort of thing found on their late eighties album “Doolittle” such as “Wave of Mutilation” but it misses that mark by some way.  6/10 (Editor’s note – I think Ian is a hard marker, we would have gone a 7/10!) 

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Bon Iver’s first album, From Emma, Long Ago emerged apparently from nowhere, a timeless and great collection of largely acoustic songs recorded in a cabin in the woods by Justin Vernon (who is Bon Iver). His second album confused listeners as it headed towards 1980s Bruce Hornsby / Don Henley type saxophone rock. So what to expect this time? Well, 22, A Million has meaningless song titles that use weird symbols, and more electronics, vocoders and even chipmunk-style treated backing vocals than anything else you will hear this year. And yet, through it all, his ability to write a stunningly beautiful song with real emotional grip shines through. A couple of tracks are almost unlistenable, but others are amongst the best things I’ve heard in years. So maybe an album to download selected tracks – yet it does hang together, with even the less pleasant moments used too frame the beauty. Probably a masterpiece, and we won’t even take a mark off for its length (only 33 minutes). 9/10

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American Band is the 11th album from the Drive By Truckers and is no less than a state of the nation review with songs about immigration, guns and shootings and race. Their brand of southern blues-rock with touches of country is resolutely independent of fashion and fads, but conceals a sharp musical and lyrical intelligence. They look and often sound like a bunch of tough southern redneck bar-rockers, but listen carefully and you will not just great tunes and well-constructed songs  but also highly intelligent and considered lyrics and a strong sense of story-telling, history and social conscience.

What It Means is perhaps the most directly political song here, with lyrics like “You don’t see too many white kids lying bleeding on the street”.  Or how about “He had the makings of a leader of a certain kind of men/Who need to feel the world’s against them, out to get them if it can,” as a couplet that relates to  an early 20th century figure but could just describe a certain prominent US politician. This is one of the very best US rock bands of the last 20 years, and it is good to see that their reputation is still growing. This is really great, and if you enjoy this, there is one heck of an interesting back-catalogue to explore.  9/10  (8.5 for the music and an extra half point for being on the right side of most arguments).

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