April 6, 2010
BLACK FRANCIS (Charles Michael Kittredge Thompson IV, born 1965) became FRANK BLACK; now that the Pixies are touring again, Black Francis is back. In solo demos recorded the day before the Pixies went in to record “Come on Pilgrim,” you can hear the Black Francis persona in all its burgeoning greatness: the ferocious (and underappreciated) rhythm guitar; those strangled vocals in the upper registers alternating with the sweet falsetto; the chirps and barks; the occasional tune chanted exuberantly in Spanish; Christian tropes and narratives taken out for a joyride (“Come on Pilgrim, you know He loves you!”). When he disbanded the Pixies, the artist now known as Frank Black started singing in a lower and more resonant part of his register, reducing the frequency of yelps and squawks, and turning out an album a year of brilliant pop songs (about space and a futuristic California) for over a decade. Now that he’s once again releasing music under the Black Francis moniker, does this mean the end of such beautiful pop songs as Frank Black’s “Two Spaces” and “Headache”? I doubt it. Black’s fractured vocals seem to come from an effort to split his voice in two, to sing those harmonies that he can play on the guitar. His musical schizophrenia can’t be synthesized or contained.
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