The most surprising of these is also the most satisfying. After membership shakeups, drug busts, spinoff bands, and a hiatus that looked a helluva lot like a breakup, Pixies bassist Kim Deal and twin sister Kelley have reunited for a new Breeders record. It's called Title TK (4AD/Elektra), which is newspaper shorthand for "I'll think a title up later," and the album lives up to its self-indulgent name — in a good way. It feels as if Deal isn't worried about writing another "Cannonball" (the irresistible explosion that made the Breeders stars), and instead has filled this record with the grit and gristle that always kept her pop hooks from blending into the crowd. Which isn't to say the songs aren't catchy — it's just that listening to this one is more like discovering something weird and cool than having something jump up, grab you by the collar, and drag you into a torrent of endorphins.
Frank Black (who, as Black Francis, used to be Deal's fellow Pixie) hasn't been one to let the years pass without new releases — this month he has not one but two new discs out, Devil's Workshop and Black Letter Days (both on spinART, with backing band the Catholics). Career-wise, the songwriter might have been smarter to cull one killer record from this material, but Black seems more interested in giving his die-hard fans everything he's got than in marketing his music to new listeners.
There are good reasons for the songs to be segregated: Days comes across as the "serious" album, less reminiscent of his famous legacy and more introspective. Many of the songs feature pedal steel solos and spacious arrangements appropriate for lyrics that are more often than not about hitting the road, leaving cities and entanglements behind. Workshop is heavier on the hook and quirk most of us associate with Black's solo material, shorter and more lighthearted than its counterpart. It also boasts a tune named for San Antonio, though that song's tone is ambiguous enough that locals may not feel complimented.
For those fans who insist that the Pixies whole was always greater than its individual parts, a long-told-of treasure has been unearthed. Titled simply Pixies (spinART), it is drawn from the first demo recording the band ever distributed, the so-called "Purple Tape" that got them signed to super-cool British label 4AD. The Purple Tape recordings were so strong that label chief Ivo Watts-Russell released half of them as-is on the debut EP Come on Pilgrim; this new release contains the remaining tracks.
All but one of these tunes eventually made it onto official releases in some fashion. They were rerecorded for albums or singles, with the exception of "Rock a My Soul," which would have sounded right at home on Doolittle. Few of the tracks are longer than two minutes, meaning the whole thing is just over a quarter-hour. It's not the best bargain for newcomers, then, but it's a treat for longtime fans to see how the band hit the ground running; the trademark sound is sometimes more friendly here, without the scary polish that producer Steve Albini would bring, but from the lunatic squeal that starts "Broken Face" to the cover of Eraserhead's "In Heaven," this is pure Pixies.
"In Heaven" never made it onto one of the albums, but a live version did appear as a B-side, all of which are collected on (duh) Complete "B" Sides (4AD). The record's been out overseas for more than a year, but since a) it doesn't seem scheduled for a U.S. release, and b) it's selling many places here for the price of a regular record, it seems to deserve mention alongside these other releases. It's just what it says: All the tracks that didn't appear on albums, some of which (like a cool, more mellow take on "Wave of Mutilation") are little gems.
All in all, it's not a bad time to be a fan of this band that's probably never going to get back together. Now if only the Breeders (who are touring, and had an Austin gig this week) would swing through S.A.