For many diehard Pixies fans, the release of “EP 2” will offer proof positive that you can’t go home again.
This seminal post-punk/alternative band meant so much to the development of American music’s underbelly during the ’80s that it’s almost as if those who venerated the band back then would rather it be left alone in their memories than resurrected here in reality. The Pixies, after all, pretty much created the blueprint that alternative-leaning punk would follow – the soft/loud dynamics favored unflinchingly by Nirvana, and the obtuse, freakish caterwauling of Frank Black, whose blend of the dreamy and the in-your-face is echoed by pretty much every indie-rock band extant. The Pixies will forever be known as one of the finest representatives of anti-commercial, underground rock, and to see the band reunited and making the nostalgia scene is too much for the hipster credibility police to bear.
Those folks aren’t entirely wrong, for “EP 2” – its predecessor saw release in September – unveils a band that bears very little resemblance to the Pixies of “Surfer Rosa,” that delightfully wacko quartet so clearly dedicated to swimming against the mainstream. What we have instead is an ensemble that basically sounds like a Pixies tribute band at best, and an only slightly-above-average modern rock band at worst. That’s tough going for anyone who delighted in the Pixies’ eccentricity and unabashed weirdness back in the day. Whenever that weirdness does rear its head here – say during the exaggerated monster movie enunciations of “Blue Eyed Hexe” – it sounds so self-conscious as to be stripped of its power. You can almost imagine the band gathered in the studio, prepping for a take by listening to its old records in an attempt to channel some of what was once an unstudied freakishness.
Far better is “Magdalena,” which sounds like an unforced interpretation of Black’s best work – it packs some harmonic punch, a hint of the old mystery, a suggestion of otherness of the sort that the Pixies used to be able to summon without having to try too hard. But “Greens and Blues” erases this suggestion of majesty, and scribbles in its stead a thoroughly banal modern rock song that is, frankly, completely beneath this band, or should be.
A bummer of the first order, then. The Pixies can still deliver at least a portion of the goods in concert. But “EP 2” bears too many of the markings of a band going through the motions to make it worthy of the group’s considerable legacy.
– Jeff Miers
Martynas Levickis, who goes only by his first name on this album, is a young Lithuanian accordion virtuoso newly graduated from the Royal Academy of Music. He got his commercial start in 2010 when he won the “Lithuania’s Got Talent” TV show while he was still studying at the Royal Academy. Since then he has played accordion in unlikely places such as London’s Wigmore Hall and Royal Festival Hall. Martynas shows on this enjoyable disc that he has a suave, appealing style. His airy cafe playing – he is accompanied soulfully by a string quartet on some tracks, a small band on others – made me even like music I hadn’t liked before, including the theme from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino.” Brahms would have gotten a laugh out of the Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor, starting slow, then speeding up, with Gypsy flair. The theme from “Cinema Paradiso” sounds great.
About Bach’s “Air on a G string,” Martynas writes: “I think all of music begins and ends with Bach. … Accordion and string quartet is a great combination for this intimate and delicate piece.” He should have thought twice about that one, I think, and the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh. (Though I love his explanation: “I had never thought of playing Beethoven on the accordion, but unexpected things happen in life.”) Levickis is clever and creative and adept but, like a lot of crossover artists, he seems to have a superficial relationship with classical music. Also, though his selections can be entertaining, he doesn’t dig deep for them. The Turkish March, the “Habanera” from “Carmen,” “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” – there are no surprises. Recording volume is uneven from track to track. You will have to adjust your set.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
Lose All Memory
It was called Madchester, a term of affection, actually, for the influential alt-rock movement that came out of Manchester, England, in the 1980s-’90s. Bands like the Stone Roses, the Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets created moods with their often dense mix of swirling psychedelic rock.
As a colleague recently said, there has to be something in the water there because that sound hasn’t stopped; it’s morphed a bit, but it’s still there. Meet Bauer, an indie-pop quartet out of Manchester (not to be confused with the Dutch band of the same name) that infuses the scene’s classic sound with a modern bent. In this case, the layers are stripped down, vocals are clear and tracks are moody without being maudlin.
It only took hearing snippets of Bauer songs to fall in love with the music and make an online purchase of the 12-track “Lose All Memory.” It’s a solid disc of tunes that comfortably move from moody scene-setters to easy-listening pop songs. It sounds like a fully formed, cohesive album, yet it’s actually a compilation of rare tracks, demos, remixes and B-sides.
The best songs on “Lose All Memory” create atmosphere through wispy layers of chiming guitars and the dreamy and distinct vocals of Greg Matthews, who, like the best singers, creates emotions with his voice. Matthews can rock, but also can be graceful on tunes like the melodic “It’s Got to Get Better” and “The Lights Go Down.”
The disc opener “Signs” and the sublimely haunting “Indian Sign” are atmospheric gems that move along quite nicely on Michael Reed’s melodic guitar. “Isn’t It a Perfect World” starts similarly then surprises with a soaring chorus that is absolutely buoyant. “Lose All Memory” has songs you can lose yourself in – and that’s the best compliment to give a band. Bauer is worth checking out. (See bauermusic.tumblr.com.)
– Toni Ruberto
Angels + Animals
Ryan Star graduates to a new level of artistry on “Angels + Animals,” taking the emotion his work has always had and the craftsmanship he learned on his major-label debut, “11:59,” and setting it in a new, ambitious context.
Pop concept albums are exceedingly hard to pull off, but Star manages in this tale of love lost and reclaimed. It’s like he commandeered adult pop radio to tell his story, with “We Were Kings” as dramatic as Imagine Dragons, “My Life” as emotional as Passenger and the single “Impossible” using catchy rhythms and subtle guitar to build an inspirational sing-along.
– Glen Gamboa,