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Loud Quiet Loud: A Comparison of Modernism to the Music of the Pixies

A group of alt-rockers called the Pixies
Image sourced from Pinterest - The Pixies

Un Chien Andalou, the landmark surrealist film created in 1929 by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, pushed the envelope and created waves of influence felt for a century now. It was a modern beacon embraced by avant garde artists and deemed obscene by French society. Six decades after the premier, Pixies frontman Black Francis (born Charles Thompson IV) felt moved by the film, penning Debaser in 1989, a song about seeing the film and wanting to join the creator’s army of provocateurs.

The Pixies did not invent, but did perfect, a modern songwriting texture–combining muted or quiet pieces with loud, dynamic and melodic parts. The same texture appears prominently in Debaser; Kim Deal’s bass growls the opening lick, quickly followed by a harmony of guitars by Joey Santiago. David Loverling fills the space with an unusual shuffle of rhythmic drumming. The most prominent texture is the moments quietly punctuated by Kim Deal, calmly uttering the word “Debaser” between Francis’ room filling sonic rants– “Want to grow up to be a Debaser!”.

There’s something unsettling, almost foreboding about the stark lines of modern structures. They either hide everything behind clean white plaster or sandstone… or they are made of glass, hiding nothing. Like the aesthetics of a David Lynch movie, do they hold dark secrets behind their walls? The Pixies' often allegorical melodies sweeten a poisoned tea of lyrical degradation (Hey), doomsday (Monkey Gone To Heaven) and the woes of being a human in modern society (I Bleed).

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Mixing texture is key to modernity in architectural structures. Modern architecture broke off of traditional designs by redefining space; crisp buildings combined bold colors with clean, often white, linear spaces. Googie architecture furthered the movement by combining asymmetric geometry to their buildings. In Nimrod’s Son, the Pixies’ asymmetrical structures and rhythms create a sense of tension and release, like an out of control train careening down a hill. Structural shapes that jutted up or out complimented organic shapes such as boulders and greenery, giving such spaces a formula– Loud, Quiet, Loud– found in the Pixies’ mode of operation.

The next time you find yourself meandering the neighborhoods of a mid-century typology, give the Pixies a listen–you too might see the similarities.

Written by Neal Breton

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