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Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Breeders: Last Splash


1) New Year; 2) Cannonball; 3) Invisible Man; 4) No Aloha; 5) Roi; 6) Do You Love Me Now?; 7) Flipside; 8) I Just Wanna Get Along; 9) Mad Lucas; 10) Divine Hammer; 11) S.O.S.; 12) Hag; 13) Saints; 14) Drivin' On 9; 15) Roi (reprise).

Sorry if this breaks any conventions, but this, not Pod, should be the Breeders' primary claim to fame. Yes, so Pod is a bit more lo-fi, off-the-cuff, stream-of-conscious-to-record kind of a thing, whereas Last Splash is rather «stereotypical indie rock» in comparison — not to mention being far closer to the regular Pixies style. But who really cares, if the songs are that good?..

For this album, the Breeders were: Kim Deal on vocals, guitars, and keyboards; Josephine Wiggs on bass; Jim MacPherson on drums; and, most interestingly, Kim's own twin sister Kelley Deal on second guitar, even though, prior to joining the Breeders, she did not know how to play at all (nice boost to all of you non-playing, but aspiring suckers out there). It's not as if it took a lot of skill to play anything on this record, but the Breeders are not about skill — they're your friends, the lovely gruff cavemen (actually, cavewomen mostly) with a knack for converting gruffness into romanticism with simple, but efficient melodic twists.

Well, at least they are now. Most of these songs are short, concise, catchy, and likeable. "We have come for light", Kim announces at the very beginning, before the tempo speeds up and over a heavy psychedelic gallop we are being told that "I am the rain, I am the new year, I am the sun". Silly people might call this approach «pretentious», but in the warped world of the Pixies and the Breeders, nothing ever gets taken too seriously. They are just having fun, opening the season with a brief shamanistic ritual for the electric guitar. Good groove.

The actual hooks start coming with ʽCannonballʼ, whose frolicking bassline and wobbling lead guitar flourishes form a perfect combination with the vocals, which also wobble (her "spitting in a wishing well" is adorable, the way those hushed vowels weave around the guitar) and then come together in a perfectly sunny — and totally minimalistic — chorus of "in the shade, in the shade". Here, the mystical appeal of the Pixies — as in, when you know for sure that these songs are great but you have no idea why — reappears in all its glory: I totally fail to understand why this song moves me so much or even how it moves me, but it does.

As does ʽInvisible Manʼ, which is already a little less mysterious — if you cleaned it up a bit from all the dirty feedback and brought the vocals a little upfront, it'd be, like, totally a song from The Velvet Underground & Nico, on the Nico side of things, of course. Kim sings it in her low register, quite similar to the way Nico told us once to beware of the femme fatale — here, though, we are told to beware of The Invisible Man, which is pretty much the same thing in a different gender role. Beautiful, evocative vocal part, nice ʽWalrusʼ-style string arrangements.

It's not just the vocals, though — ʽRoiʼ, which is pretty much an instrumental, is one of the best Sonic Youth songs never written by Sonic Youth, even if one of the guitarists never knew how to play guitar. A bit of dark ambience, a bit of pure noise, a clever build-up towards a rocking cli­max, even a little quotation from the ʽWhole Lotta Loveʼ riff... well, technically it's not much to speak of, but I like how it is structured like a four-minute multi-part suite that pretty much sum­marizes everything cool that was invented by DIY indie people — before it all became regurgi­tated and plagiarized so often that the DIY spirit became a parody of its former self.

Just two more highlights, and I'll shut up: ʽDivine Hammerʼ is a wonderfully optimistic and de­termined track — "I'm just looking for one divine hammer" is one phrase that is really tough to get out of your head, especially because of the pitch jump on "hammer" (later on, echoed by the lead line), and then, you also never know if she is being semi-serious or totally ironic (you pro­bably wouldn't think that Kim Deal is being serious when she sings "I'm just looking for a faith, waiting to be followed" — then again, what do we really know about Kim Deal? And what do we really know about the word «faith»?).

And, of course, there's the obligatory «Moe Tucker-style conclusion»: ʽDrivin' On 9ʼ is a gor­geous little ditty, fiddle and all, a perfect mixture of indie rock and country that is indeed a perfect, though much too short, soundtrack for a slow late night cruise, and nobody could sing it as sweetly as Kim does in her overgrown child voice. A peaceful, traditionalist, yet totally not tacky tune for us all to take a load off.

See, this is what happens when you just make a teensy-weensy effort to support your already burgeoning charisma. Really, the numbers on Pod were these little unfocused bursts of charis­matic energy — with Last Splash, we get something that is more conventional, but nothing can really be too conventional with these eccentric ladies. If you only go for «innovation», pure and simple (yes, and eat something new for breakfast every day, too), you might get bored. If you prefer your innovation mixed with old-fashioned pop sensibility, well... thumbs up, and let's get on with it.

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