Cool as Kim Deal: A Retrospective
Listen to the playlist on the service of your choice, while reading along.
In May I will be seeing The Breeders in concert. It is surprising to reflect on the fact that Kim Deal, the band’s driving force, has been at her craft for thirty years. Such are the joys of getting to an age where the artists you grew up listening to have become the aged veterans of the music world. Wait! I wasn’t growing up when I first started listening to her, I was 20, I was an adult. Yeesh.
- Gigantic - The Pixies
- Silver - The Pixies
- Into the White - The Pixies
- Hellbound - The Breeders
- Fortunately Gone - The Breeders
- Velouria - The Pixies
- You and Your Sister - This Mortal Coil
- Palace of the Brine - The Pixies
- Do You Love Me Now - The Breeders
- Safari - The Breeders
- Cannonball - The Breeders
- Invisible Man - The Breeders
- Saints - The Breeders
- Pacer - The Amps
- Tipp City - The Amps
- I Am Decided - The Amps
- Mom's Drunk - The Amps
- Cool as Kim Deal - Dandy Warhols
- Son of Three - The Breeders
- Huffer - The Breeders
- Bang On - The Breeders
- Night of Joy - The Breeders
- It's the Love - The Breeders
- Fate to Fatal - The Breeders
- Walking with a Killer - Kim Deal
- Wait in the Car - The Breeders
- All Nerve - The Breeders
This is a write-up in which some of you may not know the subject artist, yet you probably know her bands or songs. This is also a playlist that will journey less sonically than most others I have done. Kim Deal has been thrashing on a bass or guitar her whole life and her style has not changed much. Her voice is fairly straightforward and stays in the same range pretty much all the time. But let’s not be too dismissive or judgy about Ms. Deal. She is a genuine rocker and must be included in the annals of rock history as one of the more significant female contributors to modern rock. And yeah, if you’re not into guitars and hard rocking music, maybe this playlist isn’t for you – though there are also some great pop songs here, so give it a chance.
Kim was born in 1961 in Dayton, Ohio and has an identical twin sister, Kelley, who just happens to have been her musical partner for most of her life. The two started writing songs (mostly Kim) and playing guitar as teenagers, forming a folk band called The Breeders while still in high school. Kim yearned to get out of the classic rock environs of Dayton and into places in which her punk and rock idols were spawned – namely the coasts – but that would have to wait as she trooped off to college where she was a lab rat and focused on medical studies. She bounced around several colleges, including Ohio State, before achieving an associate degree at Kettering College of Medical Arts.
Kim got married and ended up in Boston, her husband’s hometown, (Kelley instead went west to California and became a computer programmer) and answered an ad in the Boston newspaper from a band seeking a female bassist who liked Peter, Paul and Mary as well as Hüsker Dü. I guess Kim thought her folk-rock background would fit along with her desire to play punk rock. The ad had been placed by a pair of schoolmates from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Charles Thompson IV – who went by the name Black Francis – and Joey Santiago. Both were guitarists and with Kim on as the bassist (even though she too had only played guitar) they now needed a drummer. They asked sister Kelley first, who declined (probably because she’s not a drummer?), before settling on David Lovering whom Kim had met at her wedding reception and was a friend of her husband’s. Indeed, it was 1986 and Kim was a married graduate and 25 years-old when she embarked on her musical career.
Gigantic \ Surfer Rosa \ The Pixies (1988)
The band came together quickly under the accomplished playing of all four contributors and the impressive song writing of Francis. Santiago came up with the name, The Pixies, and they started gigging around Boston with the likes of The Throwing Muses, led by singer/guitarist Tanya Donnelly. They caught the eye of producer Gary Smith, who managed Fort Apache Studios and had the band record a 17-song demo. This led to their signing with prolific Indie label, 4AD. An EP, Come on Pilgrim, was released in 1987 followed by their debut album in 1988, Surfer Rosa.
I can’t emphasize enough how bleak the rock music scene was in North America in the late 80s. It was saved by ‘college rock’ and bands like The Pixies that reinvigorated interest in the guitar, paving the way for the grunge revolution over the next two years. Francis, inspired and influenced by fellow Boston band, The Cars, had a knack for incredible melodies and hooks that would be buried under layers of fuzzy guitar and feedback-laden solos from Santiago. However his songs had a secret weapon, and that was being underpinned by thick, driving, swooping, pulsating, and throbbing basslines from their guitarist-turned-bassist. And as a bonus, she could sing and offer the most ethereal and plaintive vocals to offset the screeching of Francis and their layered, sonic assault. Make no mistake, Kim Deal was integral to The Pixies’ success.
Deal’s contribution to the first album was prominent. She provided backing vocals on many songs, often simply harmonizing with Francis, their two voices paired perfectly. However she also co-wrote and was given the lead vocal on their first single, “Gigantic.” The Pixies would never be a commercial success, but would gather a die-hard fan base and much critical acclaim, and it all started with that first single. Give the UK credit, they pushed the song to #93 on the UK Singles chart while it made little impression Stateside.
“Gigantic” gives you a great introduction to Kim. A bass line that comes and goes gives way to her voice before drums and guitar come crashing in. The song is raw, her voice is simple, almost spoken, and the bass carries the song throughout, providing the foundation with which the melody rides and eventually a solo from Santiago. This song is set apart from the rest of the album’s simply because of her voice, a welcome change from Black Francis and the wall of sound the band was already establishing on this first album. For many, such as myself, The Pixies were a better band when Kim was given a front-row seat.
Silver \ Doolittle \ The Pixies (1989)
Surfer Rosa would come to be recognized as an incredible debut and an important album in the resurgence of the Indie Rock scene in North America. However it needed the follow-up, Doolittle, in order to gain the exposure and recognition it deserved. More accessible and with a greater range of songs to sink your teeth into, the second album would raise the band’s profile by reaching #8 in the UK, #98 in the US, and the two singles would both crack the top ten on the US Modern Rock chart. The band’s penchant for alternating between quiet verses and loud choruses would become a hallmark of the grunge sound and influence the likes of Nirvana.
Kim continues to provide backing vocals on several songs, and once again shares a writing credit on one song, “Silver.” A slow, drawling, country crooner, it again set itself apart from the rest of the album. In a twist, Francis sings in a falsetto and it’s Deal’s lower voice that balances it off. However on the rest of the album, and particularly the singles, “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” and “Here Comes Your Man,” it’s Kim’s bass and vocals that give the songs their most attractive qualities. Her bass was often front and centre, with the vocal and guitar playing around her foundations. Her voice was a huge benefit to the band. There was something about it that made The Pixies sound edgy, different, and wholly alternative. A female backing vocal is typically soulful, or offers vocal effects to lighten a song, but for The Pixies, Kim’s voice suggested an intriguing element within the band that made you prick up your ears and wonder, “what’s going on there? Who is that and what is she doing in this song?” It was a use of a female vocal very different than what had come before in modern rock, perhaps only Kim Gordon in Sonic Youth would be a (very recent at the time) precedent, though Gordon got the lead vocal far more often than Deal.
Into the White \ “Here Comes Your Man” single \ The Pixies (1990)
The single “Here Comes Your Man” was a standout track for the band and was released as a single accompanied by three other songs – notably the ‘UK Surf’ version of “Wave of Mutilation,” a slower and more ambient version of the song from Doolittle which would come to be known as the more popular and superior version of one of their most popular songs. But for me it was “Into the White” that was the standout track on the release. Perhaps, just maybe, it’s because the lead vocal is from Kim? Yup. I love a good strummer and this song has both electric and acoustic guitars strumming over a driving beat with a rolling bassline, all of which provides foundation to a vocal from Kim that hovers over the song like a spectre. The song finishes with a crashing drum beat and screeching guitar while Kim intones throughout, “Into the White,” whatever that means, but I just know it sounds wonderful. It’s a fantastic song and almost my favourite Pixies song. Even thirty years on I still can’t listen to it without fully cranking the volume.
Hellbound; Fortunately Gone \ Pod \ The Breeders (1990)
It was clear from the outset that Kim was not going to stay settled simply as the bassist of The Pixies, and especially with not being able to get her songs recorded. As the band toured Surfer Rosa in Europe with the Throwing Muses, she continued to write new material which she shared and discussed with Tanya Donnelly of the Muses. They decided to start a side project and recruited violinist Carrie Bradley. After recording a demo and playing a couple live shows, they approached their label, 4AD, whose founder Ivo Watts-Russell didn’t hesitate to sign the all-female trio. Kim reached back to her youth and used the name, The Breeders, for the new act.
Josephine Wiggs, English bassist from the band The Perfect Disaster, was asked to join since Kim would be playing guitar. When Kelley wasn’t available (due to a full-time job) to be the drummer (I’m starting to think she can actually play?) they took their producer, Steve Albini’s, advice and used Britt Walford of the band Slint on drums. To keep the guise of an all-female outfit he played under the name, Shannon Doughton,” and even performed in drag for the two shows they would play under this line-up.
The first album, Pod, was released at the end of May 1990 and in many respects, fits tightly with the sound of The Pixies only without the wall-of-sound guitars. The pacing, phrasing, and bass-laden songs are of a similar spirit. Although Tanya is only credited on a couple of songs, there’s also the feel of The Throwing Muses in the sound – a sort of power pop, smartly structured songs. The inclusion of a violin in this kind of East Coast punk was a different angle. Of course, the songs have Kim’s voice which always sounds great. I’ve always favoured distinctive voices over virtuoso talent. I’m not interested in how many octaves you can hit, or how purely you can hold a note, just sound good and fit with the song – make the song sound interesting. Kim does this as well as anyone. Pod wasn’t a big seller, though would reach #22 in the UK albums chart, but critics liked it and Kurt Cobain would cite it as one of his favourite albums. Indeed, this album fits as a grunge era contribution.
“Hellbound” had a video made for it but no singles were released from the album. It’s a catchy, raw, pop sounding tune that is more accessible than most of the rest of the album. The album also includes a fantastic, grinding version of The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun” that alternates between the slow and the chaotic. I’ve also selected the song, “Fortunately Gone” which is also a different song for the album. It’s a light pop song full of melody and bounce and an acoustic riff that is starkly different than the guitar-frenzy of the album. Tanya and Kim harmonize nicely, and it shows this band can trot out a wider array of sound than their full-time acts.
Velouria \ Bossanova \ The Pixies (1990)
The Pixies’ third album would be a slight departure musically, easing up on the guitars (just a little) and allowing a little nuance in the music, but for us fans of Ms. Deal it would disappoint in not having any of her songs included and much less of her vocals throughout. The greater musicality of the album and more accessible melodies brought greater success, reaching #70 in the US and #3 in the UK.
It’s a great album with many standout tracks. “Rock Music,” is a fun, chaotic romp, “Allison” takes you on an exhausting, relentless run, “Is She Weird” and “Dig for Fire” are great, mid- to -low tempo songs with usually great bass work from Kim and fantastic hooks that draw you in. But it was the lead single, “Velouria,” that stole the show on this album. One of the greatest songs of the grunge era, it is a grand sounding rocker, carried by a lovely guitar riff and thundering bassline. Black Francis’ plaintive vocal is offset by Kim’s distant and lighter vocal playing in and around the back corners of the song, and of course that’s why it’s the selection for this playlist. Once again, it’s Kim’s contribution that sets it apart – most importantly over the concluding section where she spells out the song in an hypnotic and brilliant vocal. She makes “V-E-L O-U R-I-A” as haunting a vocal as you will ever hear.
You and Your Sister \ Blood \ This Mortal Coil (1991)
This Mortal Coil was 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell’s project that collected the label's artists to do alternative covers of older songs. In 1991, the second album in this endeavour was released, Blood, and once again is a fantastic collection of songs. Ivo, clearly in need of hearing Kim and Tanya sing together, set them up to do this beautiful cover of the Chris Bell song, “You and Your Sister.” Kim takes the lead and Tanya harmonizes with her over a lovely acoustic guitar. It is one of two Bell covers on the album, the other being “I am the Cosmos,” by Dominic Appleton (from the band Breathless) and Deirdre Rutkowski. In addition to his solo work, Chris Bell was known as being a founding member and song writer for the seminal band, Big Star, and who passed away in 1978 in a car accident, joining the infamous ’27 club.’
Palace of the Brine \ Trompe Le Monde \ The Pixies (1991)
The recording of the band’s fourth album would drive the band apart, thus making it their final album… for the time being. It’s a shame, because for as much as I laud Kim for the band’s distinct sound and best moments, there’s no denying Francis was a stupendous song writer and he and Joey Santiago were mean guitarists that could build a sonic wall quite unlike anyone else. All of that is evident on this album, as they moved back to the wall-of-frenetic-sound of their first two albums. However the pop sensibility won on Bossanova carried through so now you had wonderful melodies shot through the hard rockin’ sound (and curious space/alien theme). It makes for a brilliant album and their most complete work. The only thing keeping it from perfect is the lack of more vocals from Kim.
The album launches with the blast-and-a-half sprint of the title track, followed by the raw angst of “Planet of Sound,” and then the impeccable, “Alec Eiffel.” It’s an exhausting and exhilarating trio of songs to get you going. The pace is carried through “The Sad Punk,” with some momentary breaks, before delivering a stellar cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.” This brings us to “U-Mass,” my favourite Pixies song and one of the greatest punk-rock songs ever recorded. I’m not much of a dancer, but I hurled myself around the floor at The Dance Cave (upstairs from Lee’s Palace) every Friday and Saturday night to this song for a solid year. Francis drawls through the song with ambivalence while the most intoxicating guitar riff (aided by Kim’s bass and Lovering’s drums) builds the tension, leading to an explosion as Francis snarls, “It’s educational,” before descending into a cathartic, chaotic ending. This song must be heard at '11' – every time.
The next song is “Palace of the Brine” and just about the only song to give Kim some airtime, brief as it is. It’s a country-ish, mid-tempo song, and frankly having Kim’s backing vocal on the chorus provides a respite at the halfway point of the album. It’s a catchy song that employs The Pixies’ patented fast-slow, quiet (though not so much in this one)-loud elements to its usual wonderful effect. The album finishes strong over the remaining eight songs (you can tell CDs had arrived with 4-5 more songs per release than before) and there isn’t a weak song on the album.
The band toured relentlessly to promote the album, including as the opener for U2 on their ‘Zoo TV’ tour in 1992, which didn’t sit well with the band. By the end they were happy to go their separate ways to individual projects. They had released four albums in four years and had few breaks. Francis was rumoured to be difficult to work with and, while always being the primary song writer, had taken total creative control of the band, something that caused tension with the always assertive Kim. He would go on to release a few solid solo albums and, in 1993, declare the end of The Pixies.
Do You Love Me Now; Safari \ Safari EP \ The Breeders (1992)
As The Pixies were winding down Kim met up with Josephine Wiggs in England and teamed with Spaceman 3/Spiritualized drummer Jon Mattock (who would be credited as, ahem, Mike Hunt) to record the song, “Safari.” It’s yet another fantastic song from Kim, another big favourite of mine, that blends a great acoustic riff with her lovely, echoey vocal and a toe-tappin’ break-beat that helps launch the song into a wonderful, chaotic ending. Kim’s voice never sounded better, mixing with the music in impeccable fashion.
Returning to New York, Kim and Josephine re-teamed with Tanya (who had left Throwing Muses) and Britt (not sure why, but Carrie would not return on violin, though would guest on the next album), and this time Kim was successful in recruiting her sister. Once again asking her to play drums (honestly, I can find no evidence of her having been a drummer), Kelley instead insisted on being the third guitarist… even though she didn’t know how to play. But hey, she was finally in the fold!
Three more songs were recorded, “Do You Love Me Now,” “Don’t Call Home”, and “So Sad About Us.” “Do You Love Me Now,” is a slow song that allows the Kim and Tanya vocal combo to work beautifully over subtle guitar and bass (and some cello from Josephine), while “So Sad About Us” was a fun, surf-style, power-pop song. The songs would be packaged with “Safari” and released as the Safari EP. It wouldn’t gain them attention in the US but would reach #69 in the UK album chart. I played this CD almost daily for many months during 1992.
Cannonball; Invisible Man; Saints \ Last Splash \ The Breeders (1993)
In 1992 as The Pixies finished their tour and went on hiatus, Jim MacPherson was brought on as The Breeders drummer and Tanya Donnelly would decide to move on to create the band, Belly. This left Kim, Kelley, Josephine, and Jim as the line-up as they went into the studio to record the second Breeders album. As a warm-up they toured as the opener for Nirvana on their European tour, who were still riding high on Nevermind.
Last Splash would be an unlikely breakthrough. It would reach #5 in the UK, #33 in the US and go platinum, and the single “Cannonball” would reach #2 on the US Modern Rock chart. It was more of a success than any of The Pixies albums, who were frankly a far more accomplished band musically. All the songs on the album were written by Kim and featured an intriguing mix of songs that drew from her usual raw punk sounds to more affected, sound-effect laden songs, and with a greater mix of pace and atmosphere than we were used to hearing from her. . Last Splash is her crowning achievement.
After a short, tense, rocker “New Year,” the song “Cannonball” announced that The Breeders were worthy of serious consideration. The song opened with a distorted, megaphone vocal, a percussive interlude, and then an explosion of looping bass and catchy beats and a raw, relentless guitar riff that propelled the song forward. I still remember hearing it for the first time at The Dance Cave, and literally dropping my jaw and lighting my eyes with joy to hear this incredible song. It’s catchy as all get-out, featuring many moments of superlative elation, whether it’s the wonky bass (from Josephine, I had to look it up certain this had to come from Kim) or the catch-your-breath breaks. So yeah, it’s another of my all-time fave songs, and if you’re keeping score that now makes four in which Ms. Deal either wrote or played on. The song would go to #44 on the US charts (pretty high for an Indie band) and #40 in the US, and magazines NME and Melody Maker in Britain would both declare it the best song of the year for 1993.
The album was solid but did have some weak spots. The next song, “Invisible Man,” was not one of them. A nice mid-tempo, pop song to ease up a little after “Cannonball,” it returned to the old-school pop sound in which she had a penchant. After a semi-acoustic “Aloha” (yes with Hawaiian accents), and a slow burn, “Roi,” the Safari song, “Do You Love Me Now” was perfectly included. A quick instrumental surfer, “Flipside,” followed and then another power-pop ditty, “I Just Wanna Get Along.” “Divine Hammer” would be another single that would get some Modern Rock chart attention, and while it’s a good song I always thought the production killed it. The song sounds like it was recorded through a wall, with the bass riding too forward and obscuring the rest of the song. It’s got a catchy groove to it though and I think they should re-record it. “Saints” would be the third single from the album and reach #12 on the Modern Rock/Alt chart. It was a great, fun, power-pop song with an expansive sound and a great vibe. It was the last romp on the album, leading to a slower, swingin’, “Drivin’ on 9” before the outro of a “Roi” reprise.
I listened to Last Splash a lot that year, it was a regular on the stereo at my girlfriend Maggie’s apartment, and I didn’t hesitate to scoop up tickets to see The Breeders at The Opera House in November of 1993, eagerly looking forward to seeing Kim live. A week or so before the show I caught them on Late Night with David Letterman where they were performing “Divine Hammer.” It was… not good. Check it out, it’s a nice way to see the Deal twins up front, but that’s about it. The Late Night set was notoriously bad for sound, so maybe that’s an excuse, but even with help from the show’s impeccable band, it’s still a bit of a mess. It’s clear that Kelley was still learning on guitar and Kim’s vocals were weak (she also smirked through it while singing, “I’m just looking for one divine hammer” on national TV, which yes, was referring to what you probably think it is). So I headed to the show with a bit of trepidation, and unfortunately caught one of the worst shows of my concert-going career. Jim and Josephine were tight, and tried desperately to keep the songs together while Kim and Kelley wandered on the guitars and vocals. The songs were shambolic at best, and I left amazed that a band that played so messily had managed to craft such a great album. I sincerely hope that 25 years of playing since then results in a much better show this spring.
All that aside, The Breeders did score the opening slot on Nirvana’s tour for their In Utero album in 1994 as well as a prominent spot on the Lollapalooza tour, where they played their last show together in September 1994. In 1995 Kelley would be busted for heroin, a drug she’d battled since her teens (she was 34 at that point).
Pacer; Tipp City; I am Decided; Mom’s Drunk \ Pacer \ The Amps (1995)
Kelley’s arrest and eventual admission into rehab put The Breeders on hiatus. The unremitting Kim kept writing and planned on a solo album. She began working with Kelley on it, to help distract from her recovery, and MacPherson was recruited on drums. It was starting to look like another Breeders album until Kelley decided to withdraw to focus on her rehab and Kim turned to fellow Dayton musicians Luis Lerma on bass and Nate Farley on guitar to round out the line-up (Josephine went to New York to produce an album with members of Luscious Jackson). Kim started calling herself Tammy Ampersand, which led to them naming the new band, The Amps.
An album was recorded called Pacer and it’s something I’m just discovering now. It didn’t sell well and escaped my notice back in the day. I have to say I’m thrilled to discover what a solid, thoroughly enjoyable album it is. Kim went back to the rockin’, punky sounds of The Pixies and early Breeders and there’s much less of the lighter, surf-pop of Last Splash (except for the opening song, the title track). The songs are edgy, catchy, and at a time when grunge was giving way to electronic music and the new wave of Brit Pop bands, it’s nice to hear a last hurrah of classic grunge. This playlist includes the first four songs from the album, which are all short, catchy, power-pop songs thick with guitar and bass, and Kim’s cool vocals riding shotgun. Kim has always struck me as a somewhat straightforward, sardonic, ‘whatever’ kind of female rocker and the songs on this album seem to carry that personality more directly than much of the rest of her discography. This album is going to get a good airing on my stereo over the next while.
Cool as Kim Deal \ The Dandy Warhols Come Down \ The Dandy Warhols (1997)
One of my favourite bands of the past twenty years is The Dandy Warhols. I discovered them by chance when their first album came out, and have been a devout follower of theirs ever since. This, their second album, would significantly raise their profile and set them up for a breakthrough on their third album. However, I knew they were cool and worth sticking with because they were just looking for a girl, “cool as Kim Deal.” It’s a nice hat-tip to our lady in profile, who by 1997 was hitting the decade mark of her career.
Son of Three; Huffer \ Title TK \ The Breeders (2002)
Surprisingly, it would be seven years before we would see another album from Kim. After The Amps she invited Carrie Bradley back to join the Amps line-up as a new version of The Breeders. Unfortunately Kim had fallen into her sister’s habit and her drug use was now affecting her song writing, recording, and the relationships with her band, the producers, and technicians in the studio. Endless time in the studio was not producing results and Kim would disappear without explanation. This poor working environment led to the departures of MacPherson and Farley and other hired musicians, as well as three recording engineers (all of whom had worked with her in the past). Her demands had reached a meticulous standard such that no one was making her happy – she learned the drums so she could start playing them herself on the recording.
Therefore, in this largely isolated and painful, messy process she managed to record some songs. She also did some production work for fellow Dayton band, Guided by Voices (whose singer, Robert Pollard, had written “I am Decided” from The Amps album, and had also taken on Nate Farley when the guitarist left The Breeders), and contributed to a few others’ work. In 1998 Kelley briefly rejoined the band before moving on again, but out of that came some more songs and a cover of The James Gang song, “Collage,” which appeared on the soundtrack to the film, The Mod Squad, in 1999. In 2001 Kim went to New York to find a band and met up with members of Los Angeles band, Fear. Andrew Jaimez (drums), Mando Lopez (bass), and Richard Presley (guitar) agreed to join her and they all returned to LA to work together. Once there Kelley would join (again) and Jaimez would decide he didn’t have the time for The Breeders, being replaced by journeyman drummer, Jose Medeles.
This new line-up would finish recording songs, start playing some shows, and release the next Breeders album, Title TK, which in publishing parlance means ‘title to come.’ It was during this recording that Kim adopted ‘All Wave,’ her name for an all-analog recording process, eschewing the cold, clinical, and convenient aspects of digital recording. This means no computers, recording onto tape, and physical masters that must then be converted to digital forms for distribution. She feels you get a more natural and spontaneous recording since mistakes aren’t easily removed.
The sound of the album then has some of the murkiness of Last Splash and a sparseness of sound that’s different than much of their prior recordings. Perhaps a result of her state of mind, the addiction problems, and the multitude of players over the course of the songs’ development the album lacks cohesion and has many distracting interludes and changes. Kim’s penchant for melody and her lovely voice still holds the songs together, so it’s a listenable album, but frankly not of the quality of the rest of her work. A soft ballad, “Off You,” was released as the first single, followed by the punky and fast-paced, “Huffer,” which is a lot of fun, and finally, “Son of Three” which settled between those two. The album was nothing new from Deal, it mixed elements of The Pixies, Pod, Last Splash, and The Amps, but whereas pulling the best of all of those would have made for a great album, instead this was more of a muddle.
Bang On; Night of Joy; It’s the Love \ Mountain Battles \ The Breeders (2008)
In 2003, Black Francis was showing a renewed interest in performing The Pixies' songs in his solo shows (now performing as Frank Black) and discussions with the others led to a reformation of the original band. In February 2004 a tour was announced, and unlike the limited attention they had received on their first go-round, this time the tour sold out quickly – four nights at the Brixton Academy in London set a record for fastest sell-out at the venue. The tour would be a huge success and was accompanied by a digitally released single, “Bam Thwok,” The Pixies’ first new music in thirteen years, and a greatest hits package. My wife, Julia and I saw The Pixies at the International Centre by the airport that year and they were fantastic; and I got to see Kim sing “Gigantic” during the encore. It was perfect save for the lack of “Into the White.” The Pixies continued to tour, play festivals, and plan a new album.
In between her Pixies work, Kim worked with Kelley on new material for The Breeders, occasionally getting into a studio to record with the band. They also returned from LA to Dayton to care for their mother who had Alzheimer’s. Along the way they lost Presley who left music to sell cars, so by the time of the release of their fourth album, Mountain Battles, they were a quartet of the Deal twins, Medeles, and Lopez.
The new album was a welcome return to form. The songs were stronger, more straightforward, and had all of the strongest elements of Deal’s writing. “Bang On” was a raw, percussive, vocally distorted song reminiscent of something from Pod. “Night of Joy” was an atmospheric slow song that perfectly used that faraway, floating vocal style that Kim’s voice is so perfect. “It’s the Love” was a cover of a song by Dayton’s The Tasties and featured a vocal from Kelley. Overall the sound of the album was very recognizable as a Kim Deal album, and while there was no new ground broken, it was a solid listen.
Fate to Fatal \ Fate to Fatal EP \ The Breeders (2009)
Walking with a Killer \ Kim Deal (2012)
Wait in the Car \ The Breeders (2017)
All Nerve \ All Nerve \ The Breeders (2018)
The band followed their album with an EP, Fate to Fatal, in 2009, while the original line-up for Last Splash came together in 2012 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the album, which resulted in a worldwide tour through 2013. Kim would play a solo set at a festival late in 2012 that included several new songs, including one she released as a single, “Walking with a Killer.” However any hope for a solo album didn’t come to be.
Kim then announced in 2013 that she would be leaving The Pixies, who were forced to make their first line-up change of their career. A new Pixies album was released in 2014, the first to not include contributions from Kim, and they have carried on with tours and releases since.
News from Kim and The Breeders had otherwise been quiet, save for a brief tour in late 2014. Then last year came a new single, “Wait in the Car,” co-written with former Breeder, Richard Presley, and the first new music from the band in eight years. This was accompanied with a brief fall tour. This past January came an announcement of a new album coming in March, a tour, and the immediate release of a second single, “All Nerve.” These all come via their original line-up including MacPherson and Wiggs.
I just listened to the album, All Nerve, for the first time and I’m pleasantly surprised, as it holds together better than the recent songs would have suggested. In addition to “Walking with a Killer,” “Wait in the Car,” and “All Nerve” is the solid opener, “Nervous Mary,” “MetaGoth” is an intriguing, almost-industrial sounding rocker, “Archangel’s Thunderbird” is a jangly pop-rocker, there are the usual raw ballads, and perhaps Kim’s attempt at the blues with the closer, “Blues at the Acropolis.” Again, it doesn’t break new ground and isn’t going to reignite The Breeders as a leading act, but for fans it’s a decent addition to the discography. I also hope the show delivers on their full catalogue, including “Safari,” which was mostly left off the setlists in the fall.
With Kim Deal, what you see is what you get. She’s never been a fashion icon or trend setter other than through her music. Her journey from The Pixies through The Breeders, with detours to solo gigs and The Amps, has traced a consistent and solid path through the history of modern rock music. The Pixies brought back anger, loudness (and quiet), punk, and catchy melodies to a rock world that had become stale and overblown. Kim’s basslines and ethereal backing vocals were often the components that set The Pixies on another plane. Through The Breeders she’s been able to explore pop and surf music and give her voice the airing that it deserves. Though not blessed with power or range, her voice is as unique and effective as those who can startle you with virtuosity. A rare female lead, she has also been an example of how woman can rock and be successful without having to glam it up or throw in a dance beat while dancing in a swim suit (or whatever it is Beyoncé, Gaga, and their ilk wear). Though only releasing five albums (six if you include The Amps, and not including The Pixies) over 29 years she has still managed to build a legacy that has influenced many a current rock band, especially given the current wave of female rockers. We all wish we could be as cool as Kim Deal.
May 2018 UPDATE: I saw The Breeders at The Phoenix on May 6 and am happy to report it was a great show. The band was tight, executed the songs well and Kelley is a reliable guitarist now, carrying most of the songs. Josephine and Jim still provide a solid foundation and Kim’s voice, while not always hitting every note, is as endearing as ever. They played “Safari,” and while it’s a tough song to reproduce live, it was still great to hear, so I left a happy camper.