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The Breeders

+ {The Amps}

Formed December 1989 in Boston, Massachusetts, initially as a side-project to their respective musical careers, PIXIES bassist Kim Deal (who’d co-written and sang “Gigantic”) and THROWING MUSES’ Tanya Donelly (both vocals/guitar) had an opportunity to exercise their partly-stifled songwriting talent. Given a budget of just over $10,000 by impresario Ivo Watts-Russell at 4 a.d. Records, the “Boston Girl Super-Group” (as they were immediately labelled), had already pieced together a demo tape with violinist Carrie Bradley (of Ed’s Redeeming Qualities) and various male drummers, so the task of finding a few other players was made easier when The PERFECT DISASTER’s Josephine Wiggs (bass/vocals) offered up her home in Bedfordshire, England, as rehearsal space. Roping in the legend that is Steve Albini at the mixing desks, and SLINT drummer Britt Walford (under the pseudonym of Shannon Doughton), the BREEDERS cut their debut outing, POD {*8}, in a matter of weeks in Edinburgh. Released in May 1990 and promoted by a couple of London gigs, the 30-minute album rapidly achieved cult status, even enjoying a hearty endorsement from one Kurt Cobain. Inevitably, the record was compared with Deal’s other group by critics, although in reality there was little in common between the two combos. Where PIXIES were enigmatic and frenetic, the BREEDERS were deliberate, dark and intense. While the pace picked up on `Hellbound’, tracks like the opener `Glorious’ and the grunge-esque, `Iris’, were more representative of the record as a whole and, if their cover of GEORGE HARRISON/BEATLES-period `Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ didn’t add much to the original, it sounded so BREEDERS-like – within the context of the album – that they could’ve conceivably convinced “Pod”sters they’d penned it themselves. The project looked to be a one-off when all and sundry reunited with their respective outfits; Deal to play second-fiddle to Black Francis on two PIXIES sets, “Bossanova” (1990) and “Trompe Le Monde” (1991).
Out of the blue, and now with SPIRITUALIZED drummer Jon Mattock in tow, The BREEDERS released a 4-song EP in 1992, led by the `Safari’ track. Having split from her step-sister Kristin Hersh in THROWING MUSES, Tanya went off to work full-time with her new outfit, BELLY. Following the untimely but inevitable PIXIES demise the following January, Kim devoted all her energies to a BREEDERS follow-up album. Having enlisting her twin sister Kelley (guitar/vocals) to fill the vacancy left by the departing Donelly (and showcasing full-time drummer Jim MacPherson; aka Mike Hunt – geddit!), the band proved a worthy support for NIRVANA during 1992-93.
With its undulating grunge-esque guitar riff and pneumatic rhythm section, surprise mini-hit `Cannonball’ became an alt-rock classic, tearing up indie dance-floors across the Big Pond. The BREEDERS sophomore album, LAST SPLASH (1993) {*9}, powered its way into the UK Top 5 (US Top 40) upon its release. While much of the set sounded less focused and unfinished (in parts) than its predecessor, the eclectic mega-tastic record nevertheless contained other stellar guitar-pop moments through the sultry `Divine Hammer’ (a second minor UK hit), the kaleidoscopically-twangy lullaby `No Aloha’, the manic ’n’ moody opener `New Year’, and lo-fi reverb-fantasy `Mad Lucas’; often overlooked was the impish, twee-country cover of Ed’s Redeeming Qualities’ `Drivin’ On 9’. If one wasn’t getting enough of Courtney Love and her HOLE – one for the proof-reader here!), `Saints’ and `Invisible Man’ were just the ticket to prove Kim was the “real” Deal. Although the album’s sales eventually topped the million mark, things went quiet on the BREEDERS front, save for a lone EP in 1994: `Head To Toe’; for collectors of rare vinyl, Kim and Kelley – alongside Jim Greer and GUIDED BY VOICES’ Robert Pollard – released a one-off split 7” (`Cruise’) as The Freedom Cruise.
With her heroin-addicted sister Kelley sequestered to a rehab centre in Minnesota for drug possession, Kim was at a loose end to provide an outlet for fresh songs she’d written for her band while in the Big Apple. Surrounding herself with like-minded musos from her move back to her hometown in Dayton, Ohio (Jo had formed The JOSEPHINE WIGGS EXPERIENCE for one-off set, “Bon Bon Life”, 1996), The AMPS – aka Tammy & the Amps – also comprised guitarist Nate Farley, bassist Luis Lerma (ex-Tasties) and retainer MacPherson.
Sounding rather rougher and rawer around the edges, the sleaze-driven lead single `Tipp City’ (a minor hit in Britain, with Tasties-penned `Just Like A Briar’ as a B-side) served up a yummy treat for their post-indie-grunge full-set, PACER (1995) {*7}. Missing out on a Top 200 place in America (but denting the UK Top 60), the third Breeders set in all but name possessed a primitive, PIXIES-like quality, evidenced on the garage-meets-grunge dirges, `Empty Glasses’, `Hoverin’’ and `Breaking The Split Screen Barrier’. Meanwhile, recovered from her short-sharp-shock treatment in her time spent in rehab, sibling rivalry was attained when her wayward sibling formed The Kelley Deal 6000 for a one-off set, “Go To The Sugar Altar” (1996).
A near decade-long wait for a proper BREEDERS follow-up was primed to erase expectations completely rather than build them up. Kim had re-secured the services of “Pod”-player, Carrie Bradley (violin), while a gig was set up to pay homage to BRAINIAC’s Tim Taylor, who’d died in a car accident in ’97. Drummer Tyler Trent was drafted in after MacPherson opted to join GUIDED BY VOICES, while Kim, herself, was raking in some spondoolics via The PRODIGY’s sample of `Cannonball’ on their “Firestarter” smash. When Kelley re-joined her twin Kim in 1998/99, anticipation was in place after a re-working of the Three Degrees’ `Collage’, surfaced on the OST to the movie, The Mod Squad. Picking up Jose Medeles (drums), Mando Lopez (bass) and Richard Presley (guitar) on their travels – the latter pair from The FEAR, The BREEDERS were primed for a comeback.
For fans who hadn’t grown out of barbed femme-punk in the meantime, the Steve Albini-produced TITLE TK (2002) {*7} provided rich if not exactly cutting edge pickings. There was no “Cannonball” this time around, although there were moments – by way of `Huffer’, `Little Fury’ and `Off You’ – of sparky, irreverent genius and hallucinatory hints of the sinister sensuality of old. If Kim sounded longer in both the tooth and throat, her lyrics were as impenetrably enthralling as ever, while sister Kelley’s slightly smoother vocals served as a intriguing foil.
Buoyed by her reunification with her first love, PIXIES, singer-songwriter/guitarist Kim was also planning to keep The BREEDERS running in any shape or form. Having covered some beauties over the years (from AEROSMITH’s `Lord Of The Thighs’ and The WHO’s `So Sad About Us’, to HANK WILLIAMS’ `I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)’), a couple of outsider tracks (The Tasties’ `It’s The Love’ and Roberto Cantorel’s `Regalame Esta Noche’) were presented on the band’s fourth studio set, MOUNTAIN BATTLES (2008) {*7}. Stripped back of her post-grunge nuances for the most part, Kim’s sassy slo-fi sketches still impressed on the likes of `German Studies’, `Walk It Off’, `Bang On’ and the percussive `Istanbul’.
While The BREEDERS have been decidedly absent (bar a cover of BOB MARLEY’s `Chances Are’ on the `Fate To Fatal’ EP in 2009 – featuring guest MARK LANEGAN), the 1993 line-up of Kim, Kelley, Jo and Jim were back on tour to support the deluxe triple-CD box 20th anniversary release of “Last Splash” – as “LSXX”, in 2013. Looked likely there’d be more in the can.
Indeed, that was the case with their long-awaited 5th studio album, ALL NERVE (2018) {*7}, a 34-minute-long record that shot into the Top 10 a la BREEDERS-friendly Britain. Flying the indie-rock flag through steadfast imprint 4AD, the dynamic/dainty (delete as appropriate) 4-piece had backing once again from producer Steve Albini; one can also hear fledgling Aussie slacker COURTNEY BARNETT. An alchemist alt-rock attempt at retro-fied girl-grunge, the band dipped further back in time to the early 70s with a resounding re-vamp of AMON DUUL II’s classic `Archangel’s Thunderbird’. But it was tracks such as the punk-y `Wait In The Car’ (the lone 45), the JOY DIVISION-meets-LYDIA LUNCH-esque `MetaGoth’ and pulsating opener `Nervous Mary’ that shone out from the 11-track pack.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2013-Sep2018

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