Wednesday, February 8, 2012

it's good, it's real, it's pretty

This afternoon, through happy accident of iPod shuffle, I was reminded of The Breeders' debut record, Pod (1990).

Pod was Kim Deal's side-project, formed with Tanya Donnelly. The rock and roll women, desiring to break away from their roles as second fiddles to Charles Thompson and Kristin Hersh, founded The Breeders (named after Kim and Kelly Deal's old hometown band), enlisted the help of Josephine Wiggs and Steve Albini, and recorded Pod.

It's better than Bossanova, the Pixies record released the same year.  Like Bossanova, it's both delicate and lacerating.  Where Bossanova, in its noisier moments, is a bit like the audio equivalent of being dragged across razor wire, Pod is like sitting in a field of wildflowers one moment before getting crushed by a giant rock falling out of the sky.  Art rock for Chicken Little and Indie Kids before there was such a thing as Indie Kids.

Tanya got the short straw this time out, becoming essentially, a session player for Kim Deal.  But it's Kim's songs here that really shine: shimmery and brutal, made all the more lovely by the stark, dry Albini production.  Pod is the color of concrete and smells like rain on hot asphalt. It marks a roughly 8 month period of my life, in between the age of 18 and 19.  I worked in a large office, essentially a receptionist.  But the office rarely had visitors. My boss sat in a small office behind me with his feet up on the desk, always reading a very thick novel.  He let me do what I wanted, and what I wanted to do was listen to Pod every day.   I also listened to fIREHOSE's Flyin' The Flannel and The Cars' Heartbreak City.

Three record soundtrack to Summer in San Diego.  Summer of grand theft auto (a Navy van).  Summer of acid trips and fence jumping.  Summer of stacks of paperwork. Official Government Documents. Rolling Rock in cans:  that mysterious "33." Summer of first regular sex.  And by regular, I mean often.  Not that I was having irregular sex before, but I probably was.

Pod, in fact sounds a little like sex and I suppose that's what draws me back.  Like its namesake, it's a sonic cocoon that wraps me into a time when I was still young and not yet fully born.  I remember standing in the office, slightly in front of my desk, holding the receiver of a rotary phone up to my ear and somebody (I don't remember mother, my father?) telling me that Grandma Davie had finally died.  Did I want to go home?     I didn't go.   Louder than the voice on the end of the line though, in my memory, is Kim Deal rasping, low, breathy, across the room, "well acquainted with the touch of a velvet hand, like a lizard on a window pane."

Breeders would continue to release albums sporadically, their biggest success, the sophomore effort The Last Splash, which yielded them their 17 minutes of fame thanks to the HUGE success of the "hit single" Cannonball.   This was a ramped up, Albini-less affair. More muscular, harder and sleeker around the edges, with a wider dynamic range, which strangely made the record sound less dynamic--more sonic tools to play with and everything bled. It was a glorious bloodbath, but at the end of the decade, and then again at the end of another decade (and another two years) it was no Pod.

Today, as I walked to my therapist's office, the song Metal Man came on the iPod.  Maddeningly quiet at first it builds spare bass figures and weird angular guitar lines into a delicate, almost lacy thing. You turn it up because you can't quite hear it.  Then it builds and anticipates a huge sonic boom.  Then it stops short.  When the boom finally comes, it is gone quickly and the song dissolves back into the roomy atmospherics of the first 30 seconds or so, this time with disconnected voices saying terribly mundane things amid the bare swirl.

It was raining today.  It tasted like rust.   I was 19 again, wet, not quite depressed.  Thanks Kim Deal. Thanks Tanya Donnelly.  Thanks Charles, for not letting enough of Kim's songs into the Pixies.

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