It strikes me that this review is a bit like the latest release by
our favorite twin-sister, hard-livin' band, The Breeders: rather
late. (Even the name, publishing jargon for "to come," reinforces the
feeling of delayed arrival.) In my case, blame illness and good ol'
procrastination. In the case of The Breeders, there are more complex
excuses. Still, a welcome return to recorded media shows that the
fire's still burning strong in the Deals' metaphorical bong.
In the wake of 1993's phenomenal Last Splash, in which a
fickle public managed to catch on to a truly worthy minor-league
band's catchiest tune, "Cannonball," and make it a bona-fide radio
hit, some weirdness hit the band. Bandleader Kim Deal's twin sis and
fellow Breeder, Kelley, was incapacitated by drug-related problems
that put her in rehab and out of commission indefinitely. Various
other members had peeled off to find their own projects as time
ticked away, leaving Kim with a head full of songs and no band.
What followed was, well, pretty much everything Kim Deal could think
to do to keep herself busy. An underrated album appeared in 1995
under the just moniker The Amps, followed by a healthy tour of the
U.S. and abroad. Dissatisfied with further tries at new band lineups,
Kim became so frustrated that she learned to play the damn drums
herself and recorded three tracks that ended up on Title TK
as-is: "Too Alive," "Forced to Drive," and "The She." Sworn to a
fierce analog ethic, Kim and Kelley finally joined up in Austin in
1999 to record again, with Kim playing pretty much all the
instruments. The analog philosophy, dubbed "All Wave," led to the
natural choice of Steve Albini to produce this new material. A chance
meeting with members of legendary L.A. punk band Fear brought
much-needed serendipity. Like a flash, Kim and Kelley packed their
bags and moved to East L.A., the home of Fear guys Richard Presley
(guitar), Mando Lopez (bass) and drummer Andrew Jaimez (later
replaced by Jose Medeles), to continue the vibe that would form an
indestructible rock 'n' roll force of nature: The Breeders' return.
Title TK is the result of this quest, documenting the potency
and offbeat sensibilities of the twins and their new friends.
Fortunately, perhaps because of the passage of time, this record
bears less resemblance to Last Splash than some might expect.
The ever-present 4/4 backbeat and skeletal arrangements of various
sounds dropping in and out here and there hark back to Last
Splash's predecessor, Pod. There's a lot of empty space in
these songs, the better to focus on Kim and Kelley's up-front vocal
harmonies and classically off-kilter lyrical ideas.
Another pot reference, echoing the "bong in this reggae song" line
from "Cannonball," supplies some continuity, however obscure. In the
band-credited song "Sinister Foxx," the repeated lyric "Has anyone
seen the iguana?" recalls the notion that pot dealers all have
terrariums, ostensibly for a pet iguana, albeit a forever-absent one.
Some things never change, and rather than cleaning up completely and
denying their nature, The Breeders acknowledge a certain relationship
with mind-altering substances that they feel is worth a mention.
Anything less just wouldn't be honest.
The Breeders choose to revisit the tune "Full On Idle," last heard on
the Amps' self-titled record; the new version is cleaner than the
original. In fact, it is among the two or three least distorted songs
on the album. Upon reflection, it makes sense that a songwriter like
Kim Deal would try out a different vibe from one record to the next.
What would be the purpose of duplication? Perhaps the new and
returning bandmembers simply couldn't live without the song. They
would not be alone. It's satisfying to listen to this track, knowing
that the Amps version wielded only half of the Deal twins' collective
power. Kelley Deal, a solo artist in her own right, certainly
deserves a welcome back into the fold; this jangling second take may
be just that.
And it's all "All Wave," all the time. Every bit of processing, every
squawk of noise, is the result of the vibrations of vocal cords and
various other cords and objects picked up magnetically. Just as Kim
wanted it, no foolin' with Pro Tools and beat boxes. The last track,
"Huffer," utilizes more or less all the instruments at once in a
recognizably "Cannonball" style. The presentation is grand and
majestic, a celebration of the purity and power of a the newest old
band you've heard in a while. "Da dahs" and "la las" abound from the
ladies, who seem simply happy to feel the greatness again.