AHWHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, AHWHOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Bum-budda-ba-dum. Bum-budda-ba-dum. "What the fuck is this?" my 15-year-old brain asked. An extremely cool-looking brunette on-screen, making quite a face, looking like she might be wondering the same thing. That bass line instantly sunk a hook into my heart's lining and started tugging. At the time, my disenchantment with rap's eternal grimace was growing—Why do white people get all the fucking fun?—and I was primed for this latest Buzz Bin obsession.
I soon enough wore out the Last Splash cassette, and a navy tee of that same design—my go-to for two out of five days of school, usually with corduroys, and always when I was feeling my absolute sauciest. Two decades, a couple hard falls back into and out of love with rap music, and at least a half-dozen copies of Last Splash in various formats later, I still stand as hard as ever on the works of Kimberley Ann and Kelley Deal—the sister act that's been the core of the Breeders for most of their existence.
For the 20th anniversary of Last Splash, 4AD is releasing the deluxe LSXX set, and the 1993 lineup (sisters Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs, and drummer Jim Macpherson) is touring again, playing the album in its entirety. For this momentous and clearly-ordained-by-the-heavens-especially-for-me occasion, I casually offered to dork out somewhat over the Breeders' discography. Okay, it's not quite complete, but after seeing them perform Splash front to back at Bumbershoot, I certainly will be.
You love to hear the story again and again: Near the derailing of the Pixies train, Kim, alongside Throwing Muses cofounder Tanya Donelly, Perfect Disaster's Josephine Wiggs, and Slint drummer Britt Walford (playing in drag for live shows under the name "Shannon Doughton") got together, rehearsed for two weeks, and then made one of the best albums of the decade—one that was a huge inspiration for In Utero, according to fellow Breeders superfan Kurt C. It was, of course, recorded by Smilin' Steve Albini, who made no secret that he preferred the Breeders to Kim's other band.
I got this tape from Columbia House at least a year after I'd heard Last Splash, and well after I'd digested Star—the debut from Belly, the band Donelly had formed after her brief Breeders stint. It's not cool to admit, but it took me a minute to recognize Pod's full greatness, as there was nothing on it as instantly, insanely catchy as "Cannonball" or "Divine Hammer." It wasn't until after I'd processed those Pixies albums that I got it, and boy did I get it. The band's tradition of covers was inaugurated by their take on "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," which didn't do the Fab Four justice—it was more like street justice, Charles Bronson style.
Enter Kim's identical twin, Kelley Deal, a rank amateur on the guitar, but who would bring a lot to the group's sound and vibe; if you peep that '70s-ass video for the title track, Kelley is wearing a kind of severe power-suit—that's because she had just left her high-clearance job working for a defense contractor. The Who got the cover treatment this time around with "So Sad About Us."
Last Splash (1993)
The reason we're all here today. Literally the reason the world is turning. Just like Pod—or any of their catalog for that matter—this album has aged shockingly well, no mean feat for a platinum-selling '90s alternative-rock album. Alternately sweet, scorching, and spacious, it was a massive hit critically, commercially, and spiritually (for your boy, at least). Listening to the opener "New Year" made me feel like a golden god. The surf instrumental "Flipside" was the song I scored imaginary chase scenes to as I shuffled to school or work. "I Just Wanna Get Along," even though it was sung by Kelley (and written by Kim), was—in my mind at least—all about Kim's issues with the control-freaky Frank Black. "We were rich once, 'til your head exploded," Kelley cooed; "I see a boy I know, his hair's on fire" would've been a cold-ass bar aimed at her sis's balding ex-bandmate. It wasn't all pop payback though, as heard on nearly incomprehensible grinders like "Roi" and "Invisible Man."
Before I actually bought the album (the first time), I had a bad dub of it—over which I accidentally recorded four seconds of Faith No More's Angel Dust, on one stuck-on- stupid day. Every time I hear the morose "Do You Love Me Now?" I still anticipate the aggressive cheerleader chorus of FNM's "Be Aggressive" where it crashed, disconcertingly, into the former's quietest parts. If there's a metaphor here, I'm having none of it.
Essential, if just for the cover of Aerosmith's "Lord of the Thighs," where Steven Tyler's cock-rock spew is spooled off in Wiggs's icy British monotone.
It's all about the slightly punkier single version of "Saints," as heard in the video, whose snowball-fighting, county-fair-crawling visuals are like a blanket I could just wrap myself in. Every year around May, I tell myself and the world: Summer is ready when you are.
Head to Toe (1994)
One of the rarer (and one of my favorite) releases, due to the pair of top-notch covers. There's "Shocker in Gloomtown" from fellow Dayton heads Guided by Voices (who would soon enough draft Macpherson away), but it's their version of Sebadoh's "The Freed Pig" that's nearest my heart.
You'd be forgiven if you thought that it was one last super kiss-off to Black Francis; certainly Lou Barlow's lyrics seem like they could apply. The fact that the original object of those lyrics—Barlow's ex-bandmate J. Mascis—produced the whole EP makes it somehow even more delicious.
Live in Stockholm (1994)
What's better—that they start off the show with the intro from the Ohio Players' "Fire" (oh, that Buckeye pride runs deep) or that Kim takes time to explain to the crowd the proper recipe for a mudslide ("They should sell them at McDonalds")? This is near and dear to my heart—Splash-era Breeds ripping through cuts from everything that'd come before. Word is, this full concert will be available for the first time to fans on LSXX.
Title TK (2002)
No big deal: It only took nine years to follow up Last Splash. But amazingly, Title TK was worth every bit of it—an evil-drunk throwback to Pod's dark, smirking delights (in fact, that would be their default setting). TK's cover song is the Amps' "Full On Idle," pretty funny, seeing as that was Kim's side project while she waited for her sis to deal with her well-publicized drug shit. As for the new lineup, the story was pura Kim: She hit it off in a NYC bar with cats Jose Medeles, Richard Presley, and Mando Lopez (the latter two both alums of LA hardcore OG's Fear) and then invited them back to the studio to jam with her. They then invited her to move out to East LA, where they lived. From indie cred to street cred—oh, Kim, you do it all. It was on this tour that I saw the Breeders—finally—at the Showbox, the day before my birthday. I think I had cornrows and a Raiders jersey on. You couldn't tell me shit.
Mountain Battles (2008)
The Breeders 2.0 are characterized by a deep narcotic chill, one that feels like contentedly giving in to sleep while driving. Literally and figuratively do people sleep on this album—but I, for one, got obsessed with it as much as anything else they did, particularly those parts when they sing to me, awkwardly, in German and Spanish. The prereq cover is of another hometown band, Dayton's the Tasties, and Kelley's crunchy take on their "It's the Love" is a shot of pure life.
Fate to Fatal (2009)
The video for this saw a bunch of roller derby ladies thwacking into each other and mouthing along to the words, which were supremely sloppy and coarse over the "Sgt. Pepper"–ish guitar. Perfectly lovely, totally Breeders.
Kim's recent self-released solo singles have had me thinking that maybe the Breeders were finally, really coming to an end—and maybe they are, I don't know—but it's clear that Last Splash's anniversary pulled her back in, Godfather III–style, but so much better and without Sofia Coppola (as far as I know). If you're one of the doofuses who thought the Breeders were only a '90s two-hit wonder, please slap yourself, and then rub the affected area. Here, friends, is a band (and its famously charismatic leader) that, after all the props, the hits, and the turmoil, has stood the test of time, cigarette dangling precariously from lips, oblivious to the trends. After all these years, I still want to be as cool as Kim Deal when I grow up.