Album reviews: Pixies – Beneath the Eyrie, Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love, and Metronomy Forever

Jenny Hval continues to explore new sound worlds, while Metronomy return with a genre-bouncing ode to middle-aged melancholy and Pixies go all spooky 

Pixies – Beneath the Eyrie

★★★★☆

When Pixies were in the studio recording their album in the lead-up to Christmas, so haunted was the atmosphere that they said they could have been filming a Blair Witch. It’s this spookiness that underpins the band’s third album since they reunited in 2004.

Tales of witchy curses (“On Graveyard Hill”) and spirit reincarnation (“Daniel Boone”) feel like they’ve been dug up from ancient folklore, and capture classic-Pixies menace and ghoulish spirit. Over the album’s 12 tracks, ghostly organs and minor-key guitar-picked sequences help to conjure this dark, Gothic vibe. Yet for all its darkness, Beneath the Eyrie is brimming with the kind of melody that we expect from these indie-rock giants from the late Eighties. “Ready for Love” is a melancholy ballad with harmonising vocals from bassist Paz Lenchantin (Kim Deal’s now-permanent replacement), while lead single “Catfish Kate” – a tale of a woman battling a catfish in a river told by Black Jack Hooligan – is a rock hit in waiting.

Unknown to singer Black Francis at the time of writing, his marriage was collapsing – and death and loss permeate the lyrics. Even upbeat Weezer-like surf-rock number “Long Rider” is about the demise of a surfer called Desiree, killed by her own board at sea.

Francis flexes his powerful vocals, from agitated snarl on the punky “St Nazaire” to bluesy, half-spoken Nick Cave-style vocals (“Bird of Prey”) and serenity on the yearning anthem “Daniel Boone”.

The mainly mid-tempo Beneath the Eyrie lacks the demented energy that won the band original fans, and has fewer of their “loud-quiet” dynamics (they remain on this album’s “Silver Bullet”). However, this is, for the most part, an album of rock songs to cherish in the Pixies oeuvre, united by an eerie thread that’s hard to shake off. Elisa Bray

Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love

★★★★☆

Norwegian experimental-pop musician Jenny Hval explores provocative concepts within atmospheric sound worlds. Her previous full-length release Blood Bitch was a conceptual album about periods, death, desire and vampires, while last year’s EP The Long Sleep tackled the cycle of life and rebirth.

This endlessly fascinating artist’s seventh, full-length, album The Practice of Love is just as considered, examining one’s role in humankind and on Earth, and probing that favourite of pop-song themes: love. But where the 2017 Nordic Music Prize-winning Blood Bitch was packed with visceral imagery and disarming sonics, the themes of The Practice of Love are encased in a warm cocoon of poetry, blissed-out circling synths and trance-like Nineties beats.

There’s an interior dialogue throughout, which is sometimes more intriguing than musically engrossing. Take the title track, whose spoken-word monologue morphs into a recorded conversation in which a woman discusses how childlessness in her late thirties affects her place in society, over the sparsest electronica.

But there is transcendental beauty here to get lost in. “Accident” marries ruminations on birth and conception with swathes of ascending arpeggiating synths, soft soprano vocals, electronic saxophone and reverb, creating a spatial dreamscape that’s as ethereal as it is haunting. “Thumbsucker” melds languid saxophone with other-worldly multi-tracked chorals and Björk-style vocals.

“Ashes to Ashes” is just as intoxicating. Gently wistful vocals drift over nostalgic electronica that recalls Leftfield’s 1995 dance opus Leftism, yet the song is about digging her own grave. It’s hard to imagine the line “I used to dream of f***ing/ Before I knew how” being delivered quite so mellifluously as it is here. The sound world of The Practice of Love is a dreamy place to be. EB

Metronomy – Metronomy Forever

★★★★☆

Metronomy’s Joe Mount (left front row): ‘People get very wrapped up in the idea of being successful’

In their press photos, Metronomy have always looked like transplants from a 1970s BBC educational series, all mustard turtle-necks, colourful back-drops and slightly vacant smiles. But it’s also been a long-running sleight of hand – Metronomy, in the studio at least, are more or less just vocalist and songwriter Joe Mount, his touring band an endlessly rotating cluster of fellow musicians.

It also means that it’s difficult to listen to Metronomy Forever, the sort-of band’s sixth album, without scanning it for personal autobiography, particularly when it is so often driven by a very masculine and middle-aged melancholy. “I hold you back, but I’m just a man,” Mount reasons on “The Light”. Later, he sings of his self-doubts on the aptly-titled “Insecurity” – “I take it because I’m being a man, but I think it might be killing me.”

This is Mount’s first record since his production duties on Honey, Robyn’s wonderful last album, and her slinky blend of propulsive bangers and confessional lyrics appears to have rubbed off on him, along with her occasional self-indulgence. Metronomy Forever is full of irresistible electro-funk underpinned by emotive yearning, notably the plasticky bubble-gum love song “Salted Caramel Ice Cream” and the brilliantly stomping “Sex Emoji”. There are also a number of instrumentals, which range from the sublime (“Walking in the Dark” is like a lost cut from a Dario Argento movie) to the vaguely tedious (“Miracle Rooftop” is the kind of repetitive house playing to a deserted dance-floor at the tail end of a night out).

But overall this is Metronomy at their most ambitious and pleasurably weird. As with the dreamy “Upset My Girlfriend”, which speaks of a man about to propose to his partner despite the fight they’re in, it’s an album stranded somewhere between pure joy and unexplainable sadness; like slapping on a false smile despite feeling miserable, and recognising how much it helps in the moment. Adam White

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