The magic of raw immediacy
In-the-moment or artful construction? Musical trends bounce between the two, like garage rock vs. the Beatles. Punk follows art rock excesses only to coalesce into new wave structure. Each side of the coin has its strengths and flaws, which keeps the pendulum swinging. Paley & Francis emphatically favors raw immediacy over polished production.
Reid Paley and Black Francis (the Pixies) ripped through this project in a whirlwind, writing the music together over three afternoons, splitting the tunes to write lyrics separately, and then recording the ten songs in two days. This wasn't a cold collaboration, the two have worked together before and had a feel for what would click. Each of these tracks is a first take, with stripped down arrangements: bass, guitar, piano, and light percussion. Paley & Francis exhibits the power of simplicity. The songs are well written and true; the playing is tight with little ornamentation.
Paley and Francis each sing lead on their own lyrics, alternating tracks on the album. This creates a see-saw effect, moving from Francis' smoother voice to Paley's ragged soul. The first track, Curse, kicks off with a driving bassline like the Doors, but quickly reveals itself as a raw, garage rocker. There's a lot of the Pixies here, but the chorus owes a lot to Roky Erickson. Black Francis pulls out Lou Reed attitude and Iggy Pop snarl, while Reid Paley's backing adds the perfect hoarseness to sell the underlying anger of the song.
Paley's lead vocals have a warm and friendly sound somewhere between Tom Waits and Country Dick Montana (Beat Farmers). On Ugly Life, Paley's best song on the album, he favors Waits as he doesn't so much sing as declaim the lyrics. Francis' voice adds the sharp point to the tagline of the chorus. Ugly Life clicks because of the contrast between the wistful, nostalgic music and the lyrics, which offer up a resigned celebration of the downside. Tired but defiant, this could have been a Velvet Underground song, but Paley's delivery removes the irony Lou Reed would have given it.
The dark side of raw music is that it can be unlistenable - there's a lot of dreadful punk and sloppy blues out there. Sometimes a lack of technical ability is lauded as authenticity. Paley & Francis never allows for that possibility. Instead, they focus on the magic. This project was quickly, not hastily, assembled by a group of musicians at the top of their game.