Friday, January 23, 2009

The Breeders. Safari EP (4AD/Elektra, 1992)

"He didn't cry on a safari/ In over his knees."

By 1990 or so, the bonds holding together post-punk wunderkids the Pixies were fraying. After releasing some of the most savage, thrilling, and disturbingly hooky albums of the '80s, the fearsome Massachusetts foursome had begun crowding each other; in particular, the creative visions of guitarist/vocalist Frank Black (aka Black Francis) and bassist/vocalist Kim Deal (one of the triumvirate of female bassists -- along with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Jawbox's Kim Coletta -- that led me and my friends to call all female bassists "Kims" throughout high school) were coming to blows. There wasn't room enough in that band for both of them, sadly, and the countdown to implosion started tick-tocking down.

But before the Pixies called it quits in '92, Deal was using a new project, the Breeders, as an outlet for songs and sounds she couldn't get past Black's gates. Pulling together Slint's awesome (dude! "Good Morning Captain"? awesome!) Britt Walford on drums (listed hilariously as Mike Hunt), Josephine Wiggs on bass, Throwing Muses's lovely Tanya Donelly on guitar, and trading a six string for the four she frequented in the Pixies, Deal masterminded the Steve Albini-produced Breeders debut Pod, released in 1990.

And Pod was great, one of the most underrated albums of the decade (and reportedly a favorite of Kurt Cobain) and a testament to Deal's superior songwriting abilities (though she'd already written "Gigantic" for the Pixies, so her abilities were never really in doubt). And before going on a nearly 10-year hiatus, the Breeders released the epic Last Splash LP in '93, whose greatness can't be underestimated (remember "Cannonball"? It's still effing amazing). It's a crime that Last Splash has been banished to used CD dollar bins; if you don't have it, or lost it or whatever, go get it again. It's more than stood the test of time.

Between Pod and Last Splash, the Breeders dropped one of my favorite recordings -- EP, LP, or otherwise -- of the '90s. Hell, of the evers. The four song Safari (which also features Kim's identical twin sister Kelley on guitar) is a blistering, atmospheric little gem of a release, abrasive and catchy, sweet and sour, punchy and coy. Each one of its tracks -- three originals and a winning cover of the Who's Townshend-penned "So Sad About Us" -- hits hard and moves on. The whole LP is just over twelve minutes long, and every second is just about perfect.

Opener Do You Love Me Now is a drifting, deceptively powerful anti-ode. The rhythm section plods as the guitars patiently scratch out your eyes, Deal delivering her stalker's lines in a breathy, sinister space case drawl. Don't Call Home starts and stops with mid-tempo whiplash precision, and features some of the best six string chaos on the album. So Sad About Us -- originally from the Who's '66 burner A Quick One -- is, duh, great, and demonstrates Deal's love of shiny British invasion pop while also standing in as a farewell letter to the soon-to-be-estranged Frank Black.

The highlight of the LP, however, is the title track, a blindingly rad titan of a tune. Built on a rock-solid, heavyweight, semi-tribal bass and drums rumble and non-stop surfy rhythm guitar riff, Safari is a masterpiece. The weird "ahh-ahh-ahh"s Kim floats over the funky breaks, slashing chords, and twisted solos are hypnotic and unnerving, as are her acerbic, taunting lyrics: "He couldn't leave a finer life/ Always hugging the ground/ And crying out for me," Deal sneers, making me weak in the knees.

Plus, the video was killer. Check out the psychedelic, Sabbath-aping, bad trip visuals! The emotionless, bored expressions on everyone's faces! The adorable way that Tanya Donelly pays such close attention to her chording! The early '90s nerd-chic clothes! Whenever this came on 120 Minutes, I was front and center.

I love this EP. Early alt-rock (what we called it before we had indie, and before alt-rock became a catchword for jock jams) simply doesn't get any better than Safari. The Breeders have released some albums in the '00s, and while not embarrassing by any means, nothing comes close to the genius they displayed in their heyday. Track down Safari and have a taste.