Pulling an All-Nighter with the Breeders
Note: This review is written in real-time, starting at 5:44 a.m. on 26 May 2002. This is in keeping with Kim Deal’s new “All Wave” recording philosophy. This philosophy is that everything gets recorded in analog and without using computers or samplers or any of that stuff. Therefore, I’m gonna write this thing without going anywhere and while listening to the record without stopping or rewinding or anything. Go.
I’ve been up all night, and here I am with my headphones on writing a review of the new Breeders album. This first song, “Little Fury”, is minimal and grindy, with a gorgeous grungy guitar sound and funky drums and some hilarious lyrics: “Dumb made for fucking / And missing from the party / That boy spun out / Hold what you’ve got.” Kim Deal in the right speaker and Kelley Deal in the left, like they can’t meet anywhere in the middle, and an end chant of “Hold what you’ve got” like it’s a mantra, reminding both sisters to not fight anymore, to bury any hatchets they have behind their backs. Reminding them that having a band is a wonderful thing after all, and that they’d better not mess it up this time.
Because they did, y’know. Last Splash was a thing of glory, a CD that managed to both rock and drift, a tongue-in-cheek record that was absolutely serious at the same time. It was accessible, and had a big hit single in “Cannonball”, and it bagged on Frank Black without being really very mean (“I Just Wanna Get Along” wasn’t too vindictive.) It was wonderful stuff; anyone who says that Pod was better is clearly high, or a bad rock critic. (Or both.) And then they self-destructed into drugs (Kelley) and bitterness (Kim) and more boring bands (both). And then they disappeared.
But now they’re back, and in all my yakkin’ I’ve failed to write about the cool second track, “London Song”, which is over now. We’re well into “Off You”, which is just about as romantic as the Deals will let themselves get: “I am the autumn in the scarlet / I am the makeup in your eyes”, which is sweetly sung and slowly measured out by their new backing band: Richard Presley on guitar, Mando Lopez on bass (both also in the current version of L.A. punk band Fear), and Jose Medeles on drums. “Off You” is like a subbacultcha slowdance, it’s “Sleepwalk” for people who can’t sleep and, like the first two songs, it sounds like it could have been on Last Splash.
Where the band really comes together is on the fourth track, “The She”. Here, we can really hear the Breeders Mark II find a creepy/cool new sound to fit the characteristic Kim Deal familiar/strange lyrics: “Sorrow blowin’ through the vents / I’m over Houston / You’re over the night we met.” But this is all a trick of sequencing, and a trompe l’ear (sorry, didn’t have time to look up the French word for “ear”—it’s the All Wave thing, man), because all the instruments are played by the Deals, and it dates from 1999. Steve Albini “recorded” this album in Chicago, and it sounds buzzy and funny and swaggery in that special Albini uber-geek sort of way. (And, actually, there is another musician on this track: John McEntire plays the “drum roll”. I know this because it’s credited to “1987 Oregon State Rudimentary Snare Drum Champion”. Don’t ask me how I know this means McEntire. Long story.)
Shit, I just missed another song, the slowish “Too Alive”. Can’t talk about that right now—I’m rockin’ too hard to “Son of Three”, a medium-tempo piece featuring the full band again and Kim intoning things like “If I find the door / I am the son of Go.” (Yes, Go, not God. She’s a poet.) The next track is pretty ace, too: it’s called “Put on a Side”, and it relies on attitude and threatened drum violence and exactly twelve words, repeated. This band is just what Kim needs: a bunch of guys with skills and experience that she can go drinking with at night and then boss around in the studio. Kim lives in East L.A. now, because they do; when they order beers, they yell “Two!” I know this because the press release told me so. Man, Albini writes a mean press release. He’s pretty funny. Check it out.
“Full on Idle” is a two-step country song with nods to both cumbia and ska. That’s another thing about the present incarnation of the Breeders: they sound, somehow, a lot more . . . oh . . . credible than the last version. Josephine Wiggins and Jim McPherson were an okay rhythm section, but they sounded like they were just hired guns for control-freaky Kim Deal: tentative, “perfect” in that way no one can afford to have their rhythm section sound. But Lopez and Medeles are both tight and a bit sloppy, especially on the song that just ended, “Sinister Foxx”, with its repeated line “Has anyone seen the iguana?” This isn’t just random surrealism, folks; it’s full of drug- and alcohol-related references, and I know from Albini that a lot of marijuana dealers have iguana-less terrariums in their homes. So it’s a pot thing. Which I guess is pretty funny. Not world-beatingly funny, but disarmingly off-center.
No one does disarmingly off-center quite like Kim Deal. Her lyrics match her voice (and Kelley’s voice too, them being identical twins and all): world-wearily hopeful, bored of it all but coming back for more. She sounds happy, fulfilled again in a way that the Amps and even the earlier edition of the Breeders couldn’t help her to be. And if Kelley seems a little lost, well, that’s the appeal of Kelley Deal. Hey, that rhymes.
Oh, hell, with all that talking I missed two songs: “Forced to Drive” and the instrumental “T and T”. Enough, because we’re on to one of the great closing tracks of the year, “Huffer”. It’s quick, it’s got so many damned hooks I can’t even separate them, and it brings the album to an end in a kick-ass backing ahh-ahh vocal sort of way. I really like this new Breeders, and I really like their album, and I don’t think I have any more.
// Notes from the Road
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