The Breeders: Last Splash (1993)

I'm not going to claim this is something I pull out and listen to terribly often, but back when it came out it was pretty era-defining for me, something that seemed to break through into mass awareness (via the inescapable "Cannonball" single) while still being the consummate indie rock album.  Hearing it today still brings me back to my first San Francisco apartment, sitting there in the bay window of our frigid Victorian while playing this over and over.

When the Breeders recorded their first album, 1990's at times great Pod, singer/songwriter Kim Deal was still with the Pixies and guitarist Tanya Donelly was still with Throwing Muses -- two of the greatest bands of the era -- and it necessarily felt like a side project; the album was brief, and the songs didn't always feel fully formed (in part owing to Steve Albini's characteristically dry and no-frills production).  Still, while some of it was ragged, there were also some devastating hooks behind a number of tracks.  (And of course Deal's heart-melting vocals, tough and sexy and magnetic.)

By 1993, Deal had left the Pixies and this became her (for the moment) full-time project; as Donelly had gone off and started Belly, Kim's twin sister Kelley joined in her place.  Last Splash ups the pop quotient hinted at on Pod, with a far more approachable and radio-friendly sound, but also pushes the more droning, experimental aspects of the debut; while the album was popular, I'm guessing a number of people drawn in by the singles were bemused by the far more difficult deep tracks. 

So, "Cannonball."  What can I say?  It was and remains a fantastic little ditty, from the distinctive bouncy bass line to the shout-along Pixies-like noise-pop chorus.  But "Divine Hammer" is, if anything, even catchier, a simpler but totally delightful indie pop track.  Other stand-outs include the terrific "Invisible Man," a darker, slower-moving track that slips into a truly catchy chorus; "Do You Love Me Now," a deceptively sweet but murky pop song (personally, I greatly prefer the lighter, faster version they released on the prior year's Safari EP); the summery, anthemic "Saints"; and the unexpectedly breathtaking "Drivin' On 9," an obscure cover which sees Kim wrapping her pipes around an entrancing piece of fiddle-accompanied faux-Americana.

Elsewhere, the album dips into darker territory, with fewer pop flourishes, interesting in spots but taking a bit more work (and signalling the direction Kim would take the band on intermittent future releases, which rarely returned to the flat-out pop sound of "Cannonball" and "Divine Hammer").

The later reissue is pretty key, adding some essential EPs and b-sides (most notably some great Guided by Voices and Sebadoh covers) as well as a live show.  (I saw them at the time and, frankly, it was a bit disappointing, both Kim & Kelley seemingly well into their much-publicized drug abuse issues; but the live disc is better than I remember.)

Here's that wonderful "Cannonball" video, the start of everlasting Deal-sister crushes for every straight fanboy on the planet:
And here's the video for "Divine Hammer":
Also, because it's the greatest thing ever, here's the reunited band a couple years back performing "Drivin' on 9" in bed (yep):