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Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Breeders: Title TK


1) Little Fury; 2) London Song; 3) Off You; 4) The She; 5) Too Alive; 6) Son Of Three; 7) Put On A Side; 8) Full On Idle; 9) Sinister Foxx; 10) Forced To Drive; 11) T And T; 12) Huffer.

Almost ten years separate this one from the last Breeders LP — ten years in which lots and lots of things happened to alt-rock and indie-rock, and over which both the Pixies and the Breeders had sort of become living, but somewhat outdated legends, and not even Kurt was alive any more to give Kim and Kelley's next offering the proper praise, though I'm fairly sure he would have loved Title TK to yet another death, had he had the chance.

Anyway, these Breeders have everything and nothing in common with those Breeders. Every­thing, because this is very much a Breeders record in design and execution; nothing, because the Deal sisters are the only Breeders left around — neither Richard Presley (guitar), nor Mando Lopez (bass, guitar), nor Jose Medeles (drums) had anything to do with Pod or Last Splash (in fact, the former two players were recruited by Kim from the then-current lineup of L.A. hardcore punk band Fear). But you know what? For all of this record's sparseness, it might as well have been recorded by the Deal sisters alone — that is, as long as old friend Steve Albini stayed behind the engineering console. After all, Kim is credited here for «guitar, organ, drums, bass, vocals», and it's not as if you're gonna hear any flutes or harpsichords — and, if you'll pardon me this one more pun, it's Kim and only Kim that is the right deal for the Breeders.

In a way, Title TK was Kim's «protest album». Technically, it is sort of a cross between the less accessible Pod and the more «poppy» Last Splash — the ascetic, bare-bones nature of the songs hearkens back to Pod, but the heavy infusion of the songs with hard-to-forget pop hooks shows that mystical spontaneity was far from the only force driving the songs. What is also important, though, is that Kim insisted on analog-only recording techniques — no, this is not lo-fi here (thankfully), but this is still as raw as it gets, flubs and accidents included. Had the songs been poor at the core, this approach could be judged as unnecessarily pretentious; but with such strong hooks, the occasional «what-the-heck-was-that?» reaction only spices up the proceedings.

And what are these strong hooks, may you ask? Well, they usually come in the form of very brief, but strongly emphasized «clippings» — vocal or instrumental. Considering how hard it has been  to come up with short, punchy, resonant hooks ever since half of the world's population enlisted in rock and roll bands, I feel half-amused, half-amazed at how many cool phrasings there are in these short blasts. Sometimes you have to wait for them, of course: ʽLittle Furyʼ opens the album with a generic mid-tempo beat and some expectedly somnambulant, nonsensical vocals, distribu­ted between the Deal sisters in a rather chaotic pattern... it is not until 2:08 that the nasty, teasing little four-note riff starts up, and it goes away after just a few bars, but that little is enough to get the back of your mind thinking — what was that? was that really necessary? was it really a tease, or a threat, or a warning? does it have any relation to the tender chorus admonition of "hold what you've got"?.. well — "it's a living thing", as Jeff Lynne would say.

ʽLondon Songʼ, on the other hand, is totally vocal-dependent — dependent, in fact, on one word: as devoid of direct interpretation as "slipping through the states to find the static, yeah there's something to believe" is, using the word "believe" for the final resolution of the chorus is a bril­liant move, because it turns the entire song into a sort of intimate, camouflaged «I'm holding on» anthem. But this vocal dependency becomes even more explicit on ʽOff Youʼ, which is a ballad (I think — with this approach, the difference between tender ballad and angry rocker seems to be blurred) that totally rides on Deal's personal charisma as filtered through her vocal cord modula­tion. The dry overtones, the ability to conjure some detached innocence and «infantile wisdom» through potentially over-pompous lines like ʽI am the autumn in the scarlet / I am the make-up on your eyesʼ, the stern, but tender conclusion of each chorus with a laconic "yeah we're movin' — yeah, we're movin'" (don't forget the rising rather than falling intonation on the second movin'), it's all ascetically beautiful in a way that's doggone hard to explain.

Most of the album sounds «broken» — short vocal lines consisting of incomplete sentences (often put together through phonetic associations rather than any logically meaningful purpose), short guitar bursts, lots of jagged, stop-and-start sequences. An uncomfortable flow, but you get used to it eventually — a good example is ʽThe Sheʼ, one of the verses of which goes "It's my death / My rhythm / My arithmetic / I got used to / Nobody ridin' in the back", so just don't ride in the back and you'll be okay with the song's clumsy, but effective funk beat, distorted growling organ, and more of those «nasty teaser» guitar mini-riffs that are so popular this season. When the song does have an uninterrupted flow, it might happen with the aid of a loudly mixed, simple, repetitive, eerie bassline — ʽPut On A Sideʼ does just that out of one simple note and one bit of glissando — or with the aid of a sped-up tempo, like the closing ʽHufferʼ, which says goodbye with a much-needed merry nursing rhyme: "Torn, toiled and troubled... toil toil toil till I get sick, I try reverse but I'm not that quick".

Not every song is great — in fact, I would hesitate to call any of these songs «great», because they simply do not trigger that kind of verbal association — but leave it to Ms. Deal and her ghostly shadow of a sister to come up with an indie-rock album that does not leave even the slightest tinge of a «oh no, not another indie-rock album» reaction. Not too catchy, not too friendly, not too enigmatic, but a perfect balance of all three to give you entertainment, enjoy­ment, and intrigue. And let us not forget to thank Mr. Albini one more time — after all, he is still one of the few people around to know how not to strip indie-rock electric guitar of its ability to thrill and hypnotize. In short, an all-around excellent comeback for the Breeders, but pardon me if I just end this with a regular thumbs up instead of a detailed amateur Freudian analysis, which I am sure it deserves from somebody who is much more qualified.

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