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Svn Fngrs – Black Francis – Grade B-

Submitted by on August 28, 2009 – 9:01 AMNo Comment
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Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV  took the stage name Black Francis when he was the frontman for alt-rock band The Pixies. When the band broke up in 1993, he did a solo career as Frank Black, eventually forming Frank Black and the Catholics. In 2004, he reformed The Pixies, but continued his solo career, recorded three albums with the German/British indie rock band Art Brut, and founded Grand Duchy in 2008 with his wife Violet Clark, releasing their debut album Petit Fours in February 2009.

Black FrancisBlack Francis has recorded seventeen CDs, either as a solo performer or with Frank Black and the Catholics. With the Pixies, he did five full-length, studio albums, an EP, nine live albums, and seven compilations.

His latest solo record, Svn Fngrs, came out last year. A short 7-song effort, it is more of an EP than a fully formed concept album. Francis, who plays guitar and harmonica on this CD, is backed by Jason Carter on drums and percussion and Violet Clark on bass. Francis’ vocals, of course, are most prominent.

The material ranges from the bizarre to the darkly beautiful. Francis, himself, says that this CD themes deal with sex, death, and rebirth, which to some is what life is all about. Yet, anything that Francis has his hand in is surely not conventional. His work in the past has dealt with science fiction, surfing, surrealism, incest, and Biblical violence (probably his rebellion against his fundamentalist upbringing)–and delivered in a scream or Zappaesque side show.

Fans who have come to expect that from him will not be disappointed by the first track, “The Seus.” Usually, this is the spot where producers put the song that they hope will grab listeners (or radio program directors) and keep them listening. Here, Francis doesn’t disappoint. This cut is an outrageous atonal avant garde piece with yells, hip-hop vocals, and melodic singing. For fans who expect a whole album of that kind of theater, they will be disappointed, having to listen through some other kinds of song styles until about the fourth track, “I Sent Away,” which at least combines a punk sound and some blues. It’s just really out there.

Around these broader sounds, Francis presents some very interesting dark alt-rock such as “Garbage Heap,” “Seven Fingers,” (which really sounds more like a grunge ballad), and “The Tale of Lonesome Fetter,” which has a deep Leonard Cohen mood with twin guitars playing a not quite synched up melody line that sometimes comes off as out of key.

But the third track is a total surprise. This position is normally reserved for the title tune or the one that the producer expects to be a hit. Here, Francis’ vocals on “Half Man,” have a 50s Ricky Nelson innocence that is charged with more modern lyrics.

Finally, the last cut, “When They come to Murder Me,” has dark lyrics but is a pure rock and roll, becoming almost an anthem.

Svn Fngrs isn’t an CD for everyone. Certainly, Black Francis and The Pixies fans will want this one to add to their collections. Other music enthusiasts will enjoy debating the merits of Francis’ concepts and musical execution.ten-fidy

Beer Pairing:  Ten Fidy, a Russian Imperial Stout from Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado, is a black brew with hints of black strap molasses, figs, and licorice, with a long bitter chocolate-coffee finish, really balancing its darkness bitterness with a sweetness all it’s own. And it comes in a can!