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“A Brief Hoisting of The Breeders’ Flagship Influence”

The Breeders are at the point in their career now where they put out an album every 10 years, and this is ok, especially since apparently on the penultimate Title T/K (my least favorite of the band’s efforts) Kim Deal spent something like two months at attempting the perfect drum sound.

Mountain Battles came out now about seven years ago this time, to moderate to replete critical acclaim, none of it unwarranted. “Bang on” made the textural and hipster-ready Whip it soundtrack (Drew Barrymore’s fine directorial debut) and like Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel, bludgeoned down a little more genre barrier with each “bang” of the drum.
So it’s perfectly understandable when The Breeders do a tour just to celebrate the two-decade anniversary of their commercial breakthrough album, and truly their best album from a critical standpoint, Last Splash. You have to take in, in order to give out. Catchy and infectious where PJ Harvey was brooding and excessive, these are the gals that truly stole the scene in ’93, paving the way for those to come and really express, to inundate the mainstream with some much needed edginess — whether it was Fiona Apple, the Cranberries, or probably even Tracy Chapman, to a certain extent, a fellow Ohioan.
So if Speedy Ortiz’ Sadie Dupius (and I love Speedy Ortiz, for the record) truly gains any unique “agency as a woman,” it’s probably for her blundering obstinacy in persisting to think she’s in a unique position as a frontwoman of a successful alt-rock act [1] (the band is to tour with Wilco this summer, and has done stints with both Guided by Voices and The Breeders). Around the time PJ Harvey turned down Kurt Cobain’s request to open for Nirvana on the In Utero tour, it should have been obvious to even any wasteoid that women clearly wore a share of the pants in alternative rock. Fast forward 22 years, the whole gender war thing is kitsch, at best, everybody defends themselves musically, and not with body organs, nowadays. To say anything different would be to insult Patti Smith, The Pretenders and so many others. I mean, Karen O, anyone?
And stylistically The Breeders are definitely the closest reference point for this new Speedy album, but really the whole thing, for how energized and artfully it’s put together, does reek a bit of pastiche. Opener one-minute instrumental “Good Neck” harks to the Pretenders’ axe-ditty “Up the Neck.”
The Breeders were influential though, in pop sensibility, and song structure, as well as in aesthetic; in fact, more immediately. “Saints” is a glorious inauguration of summer upstaged only by “Do You Love Me Now?”, a damn-near perfect alt-rock single that reminds you that these girls ache and feel, too, that’s why they need to rock out in the first place.
Let’s just take a look at Sonic Youth. Before the release of Last Splash, and Sonic Youth is also an influence ON the Breeders sound no doubt… Sonic Youth is languishing in pointless, bombastic treadmill territory of pop appeal. They’d evolved into the exact antithesis of what had made them cutting and exciting: Kim Gordon’s half-catatonic stream-of-consciousness blitz, Thurston Moore’s intimidating yowl, both with the guitar and vocally, and Lee Ronaldo’s irreplaceable cerebral social dissent… but most importantly, the whole thing eschewing of conventional song structure.
By Dirty, it was clear Sonic Youth was resigned to conventional song structure, perhaps aptly realizing that a return to eight-minute noise sprawls would be a churlish act, not anything representative of the band’s extant genuine muse. Sonic Youth’s followup to Dirty, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star is so much better than its predecessor that they should have issued an official apology for the preceding album within the liner notes. The whole thing front to back is palpable inspiration, beginning with the phrasing-domineering guitar/vocals track “Winner’s Blues,” onto Kim Gordon’s scary tribal summoning of “Bull in the Heather,” onto the indie pop for the ages of “Starfield Road.” Though not as good as Last Splash, the album does muscle forth further after this, with angular guitar squalls courtesy of Kim Gordon like “Bone” and “Quest for the Cup”… basically, the majic had returned to the Youth, and I think, it’s the result of hearing the great Breeders’ opus.
Enough alternative rock has come out in the last 30 years that, by simple scientific method, it stands to reason some of it would reach the celestial enlightenment level and tinge of euphoria to match that moment in death when you see a divine light, and you meet your spiritual guide who is to transit you on to your next journey. Enter Kim Deal’s immaculate provision to the Pixies’ lo-fi cornerstone Doolittle, “Silver”. “Silver” is a perfect amalgamation of the worldly and the surreal — and in a refreshing sequence, too — the chords, structure and phrasing are all pretty conventional, but oh, oh, that vocal tone, oh, that old-lonesome-saloon-ey feel, that you try to grab on to when you need an escape, only to discover that it’s a dangerous land from which Deal herself is now reeling.
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[1] Just to avoid confusion, it was the Pitchfork interviewer, and not the frontwoman herself, who suggested Dupius had gained “agency as a woman” just by being the head of a successful band. Sure, she gained “agency as a woman,” because she ROCKS!

 

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