High Times

The Breeders are back, but the party's over.



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8 p.m. Fri., July 12

Kim Deal thinks I'm high. This isn't all that surprising, considering the drug stories she's been telling me for the past 10 minutes—convoluted tales about flying from Nantucket to New York to score—or the bleary beauty of Title TK, the new Breeders album Deal's taken nine years to make. But I am impressed by how open she is with her suspicions: We only met a half-hour ago, and she's already examining my pupils demanding to know whether it was uppers or downers that I popped on the way over to the Manhattan hotel bar we're sitting in. (It was only that new Vanilla Coke, as it happens.) Too bad she's not as forthcoming about what she's been doing since 1993, when the band's hit Last Splash made alternative-rock heroines out of Deal and her twin sister, Kelley.

"I feel like I do the music all the time," she says plainly, nibbling at the fried mozzarella lying limply between us. "I just couldn't find anybody to play with. There was nobody that would actually just hang out for four hours and play songs."

This seems unlikely, if only because for a minute or two Deal might've actually been a pretty cool boss. Last Splash's big single "Cannonball" happened at exactly the right time, enticing suburban kids looking for something to check out after Nevermind while keeping it real for the college rockers who'd dug Deal's old band the Pixies and the Breeders' bizarre 1990 debut, Pod. For a fleeting moment, the Breeders were it: A perfect combination of radio-ready pop smarts and arty experimentation, cover-girl facade and underground mystique. Who wouldn't want to get in on the action?

Apparently, everyone who already had: Former Throwing Muse Tanya Donnelly, who founded the Breeders with Deal, bolted following Pod's lukewarm reception to form Belly. After Last Splash died down, Kelley went to mandatory drug rehab for a heroin habit she couldn't kick, bassist Josephine Wiggs took up with ex-Luscious Jackson keyboardist Vivian Trimble in Dusty Trails, and drummer Jim MacPherson split to join Guided by Voices.

All dressed down with nowhere to go, Deal found herself alone, releasing a record in '95 called Pacer by an ad hoc combo she named the Amps, and flitting endlessly from studio to studio demoing the songs she'd written for another Breeders record. Ensconced in a New York City recording room one night in early 2000, she finally found some people to hang out with.

"We were on tour, and we were at a bar one night," new Breeders guitarist Richard Presley says, remembering a trip with his other band, veteran L.A. punk outfit Fear, "and Kim walked in by chance. We struck up a conversation, and she invited us to a studio her friend owns, and we jammed with her the rest of the morning."

"I thought these guys might be the roadies," Deal giggles. "When we were talking on the phone after that night, I was still figuring it out. But that morning I said, 'Oh, where do you guys live?' And Richard says East Los Angeles, and I said, 'OK, I'll go out there, and we can jam some more.' And that June I drove out there with my U-Haul attached to the back."

And that's it, they swear with somewhat straight faces. Add Fear bassist Mando Lopez, a drummer friend of Presley's named Jose Medeles, a drug-free Kelley, a handful of secret shows at tiny L.A. lesbian bars, a couple weeks with Steve Albini at his Chicago studio, and you've got the new Breeders, actually quite a bit like the old Breeders.

Title TK's gotten a bad rap from people who forgot why they liked this band in the first place; it's been derided as dashed off and half-baked and the overripe fruit of squandered ambition. But it's only a disappointment if you expected Deal to retool her elegantly wasted allure to post-Britney dimensions. The songs slither out of your speakers like molasses from a jar, jagged guitar lines wrapping around rubbery bass parts, melodies stalling halfway through and picking up steam to drag across the finish line, the Deals' sweet-and-sour harmonies circling above like the black-haired ravens the two sisters so closely resemble. It's a head trip, sure, and not a little drug damaged—"While Xenia twists up the sky/Akron flakes out/Grindcore little fury/I feel hot tire," they sing a minute in—but it's also gorgeous, a darkened-sky companion piece to the sun-stained ebullience that caught so many ears so long ago.

"Nobody's gonna like the record," Deal says, as a plume of smoke surrounds her head. "It's all bare. Why would anyone like it? It's slow. It's not a party record."

No mistake there. But then again, it feels like Kim Deal's partied all she needs to.


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