For album number three post-2004 reformation, Pixies have gone concept. Black Francis, meet Black Magic. Beneath the Eyrie is a haunted kind of album. Recorded in four weeks at Dreamland Studio (a former church in New York state), the album is filled with gothic imagery and thoughts of death – and whatever it is that comes after that. Grunge folk tales abound, like on ‘Catfish Kate’, an infectious epic sprung from a family legend about a woman caught in a fight to the death with (ready for this?) a catfish, emerging victorious in the track’s final minute wearing its still-bloodied skin like a robe. Pixies have said the album is their Blair Witch, and it’s true that there is darkness in every corner. Thematically speaking, Beneath the Eyrie revolves around two Ds; death, and divorce. Still, it’s hardly a miserable listen – this is Pixies, after all. Even the bitter Nick Cave growl of ‘Bird of Prey’ is offset by light backing vocals and a practically sunny guitar intro, turning it into something more longing than savage. This is one of those ‘Divorce’ songs, even if the band didn’t quite know it at the time of writing. The idea of love’s labours lost seep through.
Beneath the Eyrie marks the closure of all kinds of chapters, real and imagined alike. Campfire sing-along closer ‘Death Horizon’ brings endings like falling dominoes – dead relationships, dead human race, dead earth. The twanging, Western atmosphere also comes through on prowling ‘Head Carrier’ holdover ‘Silver Bullet’ (which may or may not be Pixies’ first werewolf anthem), while ‘Long Rider’ takes that same swagger on the road and throws its lot in with surf-rock. The latter is one of the record’s high points, catchy and rollicking enough to warrant consecutive plays. It’s a particular gift, this merging of genres. A careful balance of reinvention and heritage makes the album both fresh and familiar. ‘Los Surfers Muertos’ especially slips into the musical path the band laid long ago, while also paying fitting tribute to a friend who died while they were recording. It’s celebration of life, rather than a Danse macabre.
So sure there’s heartbreak and loss on Beneath the Eyrie, but also buoyancy and love. The one is the trade-off for the other. For all it’s lurking sprites and werewolves, the album is a salve. Feeling cursed? The witch doctor will see you now.