DSP Shows Presents:
Pixies and Modest Mouse
with special guest Cat Power
Friday, August 25, 2023
Brewery Ommegang | Cooperstown, NY
As a blood moon looms over mankind in the wake of the pandemic, Pixies come out to play, gripped by a creative rage. In a virtually peerless 36-year history taking in a first era (1986-1993) that gouged out a raw, dynamic and influential new path for alternative rock over a clutch of seminal albums merging mythological savagery, sci-fi intrigue and collegiate pop charm, and a second since their 2004 reunion that has seen them alchemize more sophisticated dark arts, the iconic alt-rock pioneers rarely been so fired up and wracked with that ancient hunger. “We’re trying to do things that are very big and bold and orchestrated,” says frontman Black Francis, “not necessarily without any sophistication or complexity, but it’s nuanced.”
Their renewed musical fervour saw a stand-alone single ‘Human Crime’ leap from the shadows in March and has created an eighth album, Doggerel. Produced by regular studio foil Tom Dalgety, it’s a mature yet visceral record of gruesome folk, ballroom pop and brutal rock, haunted by the ghosts of affairs and indulgences, driven wild by cosmic forces and envisioning digital afterlives where no God has provided one. Here are captivating songs of fatalistic hedonism (‘Dregs Of The Wine’) and subsequent collapse (‘Vault Of Heaven’). Of ancient outcasts (‘Pagan Man’) and online meta-futures (‘Get Simulated’). Of romantic spectres (‘Haunted House’), full-moon lusts (‘There’s A Moon On’) and the distant rumbles of war and personal destruction (‘Thunder & Lightning’). Like 2019’s Beneath The Eyrie, Doggerel is a record brilliantly evolved from, but not beholden to, their acclaimed past. And like all things Pixies, it comes steeped in a darkness that illuminates.
Over the past quarter century, Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock has served as indie rock’s resident backwoods philosopher, pondering his infinitesimal place in the world at large and seeking balance in a universe governed by polar opposites. On Modest Mouse’s earliest records, he was surveying the changes in the world’s physical landscape from the windows of the tour van, lamenting the displacement of natural beauty with big-box blights. The Golden Casket, the band’s seventh-studio album, is exploring the degradation of America’s psychic landscape through the glass of the smartphone screen. Throughout the record, you’ll pick up on all sorts of references to cellular devices, hashtags, computers, texting, and online dating culture. But this is no typical Luddite’s manifesto decrying iPhone addiction, disinformation overload, or how social media is destroying political discourse. The album is, however, very interested in the invisible technology that’s allowed all of that to happen: the cellular signals, radio frequencies, and WiFi waves that are likely beaming through your body as you read this. “Everything is giving off a frequency,” Isaac observes. “Everything is vibrating whether you know it or not. We’re swimming in some crazy shit right now—it isn’t visible, but it’s real. I think everyone’s minds are getting a little scrambled right now. And I feel it every fucking day.”
That sensation finds its most vivid, visceral manifestation on The Golden Casket’s stunning centerpiece track, “Transmitting Receiving,” where Isaac rifles through a never-ending list of consumer products, animals, and geographic phenomena like an auctioneer being broadcast through a detuned radio, before a competing vocal track cuts through with a beaming chorus line—”nothing in this world’s going to petrify me”—that finds the serenity in cacophony. Many of these songs can likewise be seen as attempts to coax peace from paranoia. You can hear it in the moment the apocalyptic blues of “Wooden Soldiers” dissolves into a blissfully existential coda mantra (”just being here now is enough for me”) that was inspired by the ceremonial burning of hallucogenic African tree bark, or in the off-kilter yet heart-swelling lullaby “Lace Your Shoes,” a.k.a. Isaac’s inaugural entry into the dad-core canon. “When we started putting this record together, I didn’t know how to really sing about anything except my kids,” he admits. “And so I was like, ‘I should just write a fucking song about the thing that is most important to me.’ It’s a weird thing to do, because cheap sentimentality isn’t really something I’m overly comfortable with, you know?” However, in his hands, “Lace Your Shoes” is no mere lovey-dovey ode to his little ones, but a protective embrace from the cruel world they’ll inevitably inherit.
Even at its most urgent and aggressive, The Golden Casket is always looking for the light, as Isaac couches the spiteful sentiments for the playful “Never Fuck a Spider on the Fly” while steering the seething post-punk propulsion of “Japanese Tree” into a blissfully escapist chorus. “That song was written over the course of a long time,” Isaac says, “so whoever I’m lashing out at in that song has been multiple different organizations, people, and situations. That’s the way a lot of the songs are: one way, it’s like this; and then you change the perspective, it’s still the same song, but with a different winner.” (Sometimes, however, a song about your friend freaking out on acid is really just a song about your friend freaking out on acid, as the antsy album opener “Fuck Your Acid Trip” attests.)
Whether Isaac is singing about electromagnetic waves, taking his kids for a walk, or tripping balls in the forest, The Golden Casket is ultimately a plea for harmony—between nature and technology, between progress and self-preservation, between hope and healthy skepticism—in a world that has seemingly lost all sense of it. But as much as it laments our modern way of living, it keeps the tinfoil stowed away in the kitchen cabinet to highlight the silver linings of our situation. On the album’s conjoined anthems—the driving single “We Are Between” and its divine sequel ”We’re Lucky”—Isaac reaffirms his humble standing on this here 3rd planet, floating somewhere between the seas and the stars, always trying to outrun his anxieties, but eternally grateful for the gift of existence itself. “We’re very lucky to get to be here, on any trip,” he says. “Whatever this is and whatever we all are, it’s kind of beautiful that we get to do it.”
Chan Marshall’s latest covers album as Cat Power arrives, as all of her music does, at just the perfect time. Covers is a deeply felt, intimate, and altogether holistic collection of songs intended as a healing salve for the artist and listener alike, showcasing Marshall’s singular chronicling of the ever-evolving great American songbook. Self-produced and featuring renditions of classic songs from artists like Jackson Browne, the Replacements, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Billie Holiday, and the Cat Power catalog itself, Covers is at once a reminder of Marshall’s artistically intuitive power and the latest chapter in a truly illustrious career.
With a catalogue of songwriting that’s unparalleled in the worlds of indie rock and American music at large—spanning several decades and ten studio albums—Marshall’s work at Cat Power has defied genre and convention, her legacy rippling through the work of a wide range of contemporary musical luminaries ranging from Lana Del Rey, Clairo, and Soccer Mommy to Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Angel Olsen. There’s a rawness and immediacy to Marshall’s music that has stood the test of time, with every new musical missive from her as essential as what’s come before it.
Her second Domino release, Covers is also Marshall’s third collection of covers, following 2000’s seminal The Covers Record and the blockbuster Jukebox from 2008. “When I do covers, I feel such a responsibility to the artists I love—some I’ve never met, some I have,” Marshall explains, and longtime fans will instantly recognize some of the covers included here from live sets in recent years.
Her intense take on Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion” originated after a spell of performing the excoriating “In Your Face,” from 2018’s visionary Wanderer, on tour. “That song was bringing me down,” Marshall admits while discussing how the experience brought about her take on “Bad Religion.” “So I started pulling out lyrics from ‘Bad Religion’ and singing those instead of getting super depressed. Performing covers is a very enjoyable way to do something that feels natural to me when it comes to making music.”
The cover of Lana Del Rey’s “White Mustang” came about similarly during a European tour with Lana alongside bassist and longtime collaborator Erik Paparazzi. “He started playing ‘New York, New York,’ I just started singing ‘White Mustang’ over it, and I said to him, ‘Let’s keep this and do it on the tour,’” she recalls. Eventually, Marshall gathered Paparazzi and a supporting band in the studio to record what would become Covers in a series of loose, off-the-cuff sessions produced by Marshall herself.
“I didn’t know what music I was creating while we were recording,” she discusses while reflecting on the recording process, as well as her production mindset at large. “When I work, I don’t look back—I just keep going. Trusting my gut is a survival technique. My approach is elementary—it’s not technical or super academic. My mission is to complete what I see, and as soon as the fibers of that vision are realized, I move on to the next song.”
From the pounding pulse of her take on Dead Man’s Bones’ “Pa Pa Power” to the haunting harmonies applied to the Pogues’ “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” Covers is a reverent testimony to the songs of Marshall’s life. While putting her own spin on these selections, she also utilized an Auto-Tune-inflected mic setup that she also used on 2012’s spectral Sun as well as subsequent live tours. “It sounds like outer space,” she explains while discussing the technical aspects of the recording process. “It creates another dimensional atmosphere, and it somehow sounds like I’m not alone.”
Of Covers’ 12 songs, one is an original, of a sort: “Unhate,” a re-recording of “Hate” from Marshall’s 2006 LP as Cat Power, The Greatest. “I’ve always felt antsy about that song and wanted to re-record it someday,” she explains. “It’s interesting to play an old song again. There’s different thoughts and feelings that didn’t happen before—new information, somehow, in there.” And the collection closes with a powerful take on the Billie Holiday-sung standard “I’ll Be Seeing You,” inspired by recent losses surrounding Marshall’s inner circle of life—including Sun collaborator Philippe Zdar, who tragically passed in 2019.
“When people who you love have been taken from you, there’s always a song that holds their memory in your mind,” Marshall ruminates while talking about the importance that the cover itself holds in her heart. “It’s a conversation with those on the other side, and it’s really important for me to reach out to people that way.”
And as Marshall explains herself, creating a conversation that spans generations is part of what drives her to continue performing and recording renditions of others’ songs like she’s done here: “I play covers all the time, and it’s important for me to record them because it’s what me and my listeners both get,” she explains, and in that regard Covers is an impressive document of artistic interpretation that is truly built to last.