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Fizzy hooks

Arizona's own The Expos hit lo-fi guitar heroics

Mix the Pixies with Pavement, give or take Guided by Voices, and we’ve got the Expos. Photo credit: Facebook

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I first heard the Pixies in much the same way that I imagine many people of a certain generation did: in the ending credits for Fight Club. As Project Mayhem's ultimate plan comes to fruition, and Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter stare helplessly as several financial buildings are demolished, the acoustic guitar strums of Frank Black come on the soundtrack, introducing a new audience to the Pixies. That song was "Where Is My Mind?", and I'm sure I'm not the only one to hear that spacey ode to detaching your head in the sea, download some Pixies, and be alarmed at how loud and crazy the rest of their songs are.

One's hope is that, like me, these new listeners would get past the shock of how the Pixies normally sound, and really dig in to find their secret melodic prowess. Even at their harshest, as on songs like "Tame" and "Something Against You," the Pixies always had a steadfast command over hooks and economical song construction. At their most blistering, they could still get your toe tapping, and at their sweetest, there was nothing better than Frank Black and at making classic tunes for the ages. This is a band that seamlessly, and revolutionarily, blended surf with punk, with folk, with hardcore, with alien conspiracy theories, with ersatz Latin rock, with blatant experimentalism, and with a complete disregard for formula.

Countless bands have aped the Pixies over the years (most notably Nirvana), especially when it comes to their loud-quiet-loud motif. Fewer bands have managed to replicate the joy and wildly reckless abandon that the Pixies employed in their poppiest songs. Arizona indie rockers the Expos didn't initially remind me of the Pixies, but after hearing track 2 on their 2017 LP Perfect, I couldn't get it out of my head. Called "Grill," the song lasts just over a minute, but captures that bass-heavy, grunge-laden surf that the Pixies mastered. Lead singer and Expos mastermind Aaron Ponzo's voice doesn't approach Frank Black's snarling squawk, but his noodling guitar solo in the middle seems to be a nod to the Pixies' Joey Santiago, and his way of imbuing even the simplest of songs with a bit of guitar hero cred.

Over the course of the 10-song Perfect, more than half clock in at under two minutes, with many just passing the one-minute line; there's even "Basketball," a song fragment of 12 seconds, which seems to be building toward a sort of Chariots of Fire-esque anthem before it abruptly moves into the next song. It's easy to listen to this album in one straight go in such a quick fashion that you're inspired to start it over and listen again. With songs bleeding into one another, Perfect feels sort of like a medley of fuzzy pop -- a rock opera, minus the pretension and overwritten story, dominated by one fizzy hook after the other.

The Expos seem to be the work of Aaron Ponzo, with other musicians coming and going, which is bound to lead to the kind of variety shown on Perfect. "Thirstbuster," for instance, comes first on the album, and approximates the scuzzy sound that Ween tapped on their first album. Other songs, like "How Do You Feel???", is the sort of pop-punk anthem that would've fit nicely in anyone's list of early ‘00s songs. All along the way, Ponzo proves himself to be an aficionado of guitar rock, in all its most humble, lo-fi settings. Pavement and Guided By Voices echo as touchstones, creating -- along with the Pixies -- a perfect storm of college rock that the Expos might nest within.

The Expos, All Ages, w/ Blood Orphans, Panoramic, Special Moves, 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 5, cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 404 E 4th Ave, Olympia, 360.943.5710,
voyeurolympia.com

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