Surfer Rosa Turns 30!

If you’d never heard Come on Pilgrim, the 1987 debut EP of Pixies, you’d really have no precedent for their 1988 full length LP, Surfer Rosa. Here was a weird band from Boston that combined elements of hardcore punk, surrealism, and surf-rock to create something that can’t really be traced back to a direct musical movement, but was instrumental in developing what would later be known as “grunge.” Under the stepfatherly guidance of producer Steve Albini, Surfer Rosa picked up where Pilgrim left off, only with better production and more confident songwriting. The vocals of Black Francis sound positively unhinged here, punctuating songs such as “Vamos” and “Broken Face” with bone-chilling screams and yelps. Kim Deal’s metronomic bass allows drummer David Lovering to explore different rhythmic ideas (“Bone Machine”) without the structure being compromised. Joey Santiago’s leads cut through the whole mess like a dentist’s drill. This is a band that sounds completely fresh today, even knowing what I know about 90’s alternative rock. I can only imagine what it must have sounded like when it came out.

My personal pick for best overall track is “Gigantic,” which contains great lead vocals by Deal and an unforgettable chorus. Of course, the fact that Deal began to assert herself vocally more and more is ultimately the reason that the band would break up in the early 90’s. Black Francis (now professionally known as “Frank Black”) didn’t take too kindly to another emerging creative voice in the group, and shut that shit down really quick. Some folks weren’t meant to be in bands, I guess. While Deal has current success with The Breeders and Black is doing quite well as a solo artist, the musicians just never had the same impact as they did together.

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When the group reunited in the mid-2000s, I saw them a few times, but it was kind of obvious even from watching them play music how much they truly hated one another. Now Deal is out of the group (replaced with another female bass player named “Kim), and while the Pixies still tour, the magic seems to be mostly gone (which is ironic since drummer David Loverling is now a professional magician. Not kidding).

As we celebrate Surfer Rosa’s 30th birthday, let’s all make sure that we’ve heard it, okay? It’s not embarrassing if you haven’t as long as you go listen to it right now.

See you next year when Doolitte turns 30!

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