While certainly not one of the defining albums of the early 90s American guitar indie scene (in my view, that honour should go to either Polvo’s Today’s Active Lifestyles, Trumans Water’s Spasm Smash XXXOXOX Ox and Ass, Drive Like Jehu’s Yank Crime or Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted, all decidedly lo-fi LPs), Trompe le Monde (TLM) remains a thoroughly enjoyable slice of guitarpop, if not as catchy as their second album Doolittle. In contrast to the aforementioned slacker lo-fi albums though, TLM is a well-recorded studio work. As usual, the MOFI remaster is done from the original analogue master tapes, and you can certainly hear that (more of which later).
When I first heard TLM on its release in 1991, it appeared as if the Pixies sound was harsher than before, ostensibly influenced by heavy metal—mainly due to the first single “Planet of Sound”, which came out before TLM, and more clearly even the riffs on rather brash track “The Sad Punk”. Although that seems still true, “Planet of Sound” sounds much less abrasive when listened to on this new SACD, catchier, with a rollicking supple bass providing the chassis for the acerbic guitar riffs. The production of TLM was more hifi than debut Surfer Rosa (famously engineered by Steve Albini) but also more than Doolittle and Bossa Nova, with which it shares the producer (Gil Norton). I think that the fact they engaged Eric Drew Feldman on synths for TLM also greatly contributed to an enhanced sound. Perfect for SACD. (Feldman played keyboards previously for Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu—one can hear some similarity between Pere Ubu’s mid-period pop Fontana records and certain of the mid-tempo songs on TLM, no doubt due to Feldman’s musical influence.)
On this SACD, the synths and also percussion (especially the tablas on track “Space (I believe in)”) are much clearer and better separated in the soundstage, which is deep and wide; the imaging of the instruments is very detailed. Also Deal’s bass parts benefit hugely from the remaster, intensifying the pop quality of TLM. Resonance is strong overall but not overbearingly so; there is no distortion at higher volumes other than the musically intended distortion of the guitars. Dynamics are simply great.
The track “Alec Eiffel”, probably the best song on the album, if not by the Pixies, remains a marvel of pop simplicity, musically and lyrically, but on this SACD it is even more exquisite. There is a perfect cohesion between the guitars and the synth melody. The heavy breathing in the pauses of second best track “Subbacultcha” is also far more effective.
Even the aforementioned “The Sad Punk”, never my favourite as it sounded too much like sad punk, benefits from the DSD treatment; a more open sound, better imaging of the instruments. Also “Head On”, a cover of the song by The Jesus & Mary Chain, is much more enjoyable, although still too straightforwardly rock to fit into the Pixies mould. In the latter part of TLM, softer tracks like “Lovely Day”, “The Navajo Know” and “Motorway to Roswell”, which I never cared too much for before, show to be delightful gems of refreshing clarity, due to this excellent remaster.
This review was first published on SA-CD.net