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Pod (The Breeders album)

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Pod
The Breeders Pod.jpg
Studio album by The Breeders
Released May 29, 1990
Studio Palladium Studios, Edinburgh, Scotland
Genre Alternative rock
Length 30:35
Label 4AD/Elektra (US)
4AD (UK)
Producer Steve Albini
The Breeders chronology
Pod
(1990)
Safari (EP)
(1992)Safari (EP)1992

Pod is the debut album by the American alternative rock band the Breeders, released on 4AD in May 1990. The group began when the Pixies' Kim Deal and Throwing Muses' Tanya Donelly became friends in 1988 and decided they would like to create music together. Abandoning their initial idea of focusing on dance music, they recorded a country-influenced demo with musicians including violinist Carrie Bradley and bassist Ray Holiday in 1989. When 4AD cofounder Ivo Watts-Russell heard the demo, he offered them money to re-record the songs for an album release.

For the album session, Steve Albini was engineer, Josephine Wiggs replaced Halliday on bass, Britt Walford played drums, and both Deal and Donelly played guitar. Following two weeks of practicing in England, the Breeders recorded Pod at the Palladium studio in Scotland. Albini recorded the group quickly, and focused more on getting good sounds from the musical equipment than on trying to improve the musicians' performances. Critics have discussed similarities between Pod and the Pixies' music, and commented favorably or unfavorably on Pod's relative quality to that band's work. The album has been noted for its minimal instrumentation, and for its sexual, dark, and feminine lyrics.

Pod's cover was designed by Vaughan Oliver and photographed by Kevin Westerberg; the artwork depicts Oliver doing a fertility dance wearing a belt of eels. It reached number 22 in the UK and number 73 in the Netherlands. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain rated the album as one of his favorites of all time, and Pitchfork ranked it number 81 on its list of best albums of the 1990s.

Background and demo[edit]

Tanya Donelly singing in a microphone
Tanya Donelly (shown) and Kim Deal started the Breeders in 1989,[1] after becoming friends the previous year.[2]

In 1988, Kim Deal of the Pixies and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses became good friends when the two bands toured Europe together.[2] Deal and Donelly spent time playing guitar and drinking beer,[3] and shared musical ideas with each other.[4] During the tour, and later in Boston—the hometown of both groups[5]—the two friends often went clubbing together.[6] On one outing at a Sugarcubes concert, dance music was playing between sets,[7] and the two drunkenly decided to write and record some dance songs.[7][8] They envisioned an "organic dance band" that would consist of Deal on bass, Donelly on guitar, and two drummers;[3] they recorded Donelly's composition "Rise" with Throwing Muses' David Narcizo,[8] and planned to do other originals, as well as a cover of Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good".[3] However, Deal and Donelly eventually decided that their dance music concept was not working well, and did not pursue it.[6][7]

At some point, the two friends realized they could still use these songs they had written, for a non-dance project.[4] Due to professional and personal circumstances, they were not able to work together again until eighteen months after their recording of "Rise". A factor that increased Deal's dedication to the project was Pixie co-member Black Francis's decision to do a solo tour; Deal decided that if he did activity outside of their group, she could too.[2] Because Deal's and Donelly's respective other bands were on different record labels in the US, they realized that contractually they could not both be the main songwriters for their joint project.[9] Thus, they focused primarily on Deal's compositions for what would become Pod, with the hope of mainly using Donelly's songs for a subsequent album.[9][a]

In 1989, Deal and Donelly recorded a demo with violinist Carrie Bradley of Ed's Redeeming Qualities, bassist Ray Holiday, and four different drummers.[10] The demo had a country music feel.[2] Paul Kolderie engineered several of the songs, but Deal felt they sounded "too clean"; she asked Joe Harvard (of Fort Apache Studios[11]) to remix the tracks to sound rougher.[12] Deal called the project "the Breeders", a name that she and her sister Kelley had used when performing as teenagers;[6] this was a slang expression—used by homosexuals to refer to heterosexuals—that Deal found amusing.[2] Around the time the Breeders recorded the demo, the group performed a concert at the Rat music venue in Boston; in the city's Phoenix newspaper, the band was described as a female supergroup.[13] Ivo Watts-Russell—the cofounder of 4AD, the record label of the Pixies and Throwing Muses—heard the Breeders' demo, and was very enthusiastic about it.[2][13] Watts-Russell offered funding to rerecord the songs for an album release,[2][13] and the band received an $11,000 budget.[14]

Although Deal was the bassist of the Pixies, she wanted to play guitar for the Breeders, because she felt it was an easier instrument to handle when singing at the same time.[2][15] Deal recruited Josephine Wiggs of The Perfect Disaster to be the Breeders' bassist; the two knew each other from when The Perfect Disaster had toured with the Pixies in Europe in 1989.[2][15] Deal wanted Steve Albini to record the album;[16] she had previously worked with him on the Pixies' Surfer Rosa.[17] She hoped to have Kelley Deal be the Breeders' drummer, but the latter was not able to take time away from her program analyst job.[16][b] Albini suggested they try Britt Walford of the band Slint instead.[16][18][c] Before recording began, Deal, Wiggs, and Walford rehearsed at Wiggs' house in Bedfordshire, England, for a week, and then joined Donelly in London to practice more.[15] Albini was involved in the pre-production of the songs, which Donelly found beneficial.[19]

Recording[edit]

John Peel in front of a computer and microphone
The Breeders recorded with John Peel during studio time left over from their Pod session.[20]

Watts-Russell suggested it would be enjoyable for the Breeders record at a studio in Scotland[21] called the Palladium.[11] It was a house that included a recording studio on the first floor, as well as bedrooms upstairs.[15] The band members sometimes recorded wearing their pajamas, and more than once went to a local pub without changing into regular clothes.[22] The studio was booked for two weeks, but the album itself took only several days to record; during the remaining time, the Breeders recorded a John Peel session, and a television crew filmed a video of the band.[20]

Writer Martin Aston notes that Albini "stress[ed] live performances and quick takes".[16] Wiggs has recalled that Albini's main concern was ensuring the best sound possible from the musical equipment, rather than attempting to improve the band's performances; as long as the group succeeded in playing each song all the way through, Albini considered that take good enough for the album.[15] According to Wiggs, Albini's "hands-off" style of engineering greatly helped to shape the sound of the recordings.[23] Albini's contributions included convincing the band members to reduce the number of harmonies in the songs and give more prominence to Deal's vocals; Donelly believes this improved the album, by making the performances "more effective and sadder and ... focused".[24] The tempo of the songs was faster than Wiggs had envisioned; this was necessary because Deal could not keep her breath long enough to slow down each note.[15] The Breeders recorded the Lennon–McCartney composition "Happiness is a Warm Gun" at the request of Ivo-Watts.[16][25]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Pod has minimal instrumentation.[26] Colin Larkin, in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, noted how Pod resembled the Pixies' music, with its threatening melodies and loud, resounding guitars.[27] The New York Times' Karen Schoemer likewise commented on similarities to the Pixies and Throwing Muses, citing Pod's "angular melodies, shattered tempos and screeching dynamics"—while arguing that the Breeders' album has nonetheless its own personality distinct from those bands.[28]

AllMusic's Heather Phares identified the songs "Only in 3's", "Fortunately Gone", and "Doe" as being more benign and friendly-sounding than the Pixies' work;[29] Matt LeMay of Pitchfork described "Doe", "Iris", and "Oh!" as possessing a beautiful, surprisingly gripping quality.[30] "Oh!" has a slow tempo, restrained drumming, a sad violin performance by Carrie Bradley, and raw singing by Deal, while "Opened", "Limehouse", and "Hellbound" each contain a buoyant rhythm.[16] About "Hellbound", musician Sasha Alcott wrote in The Boston Herald that the song "rides the edge between sweet and delicate frivolity and a fierce head-banging head-banging sing-a-long [sic] ... The guitar, drums and bass are all doing their own thing to build up and then slam into the refrain."[31] "Metal Man", co-written by Wiggs and featuring her on Spanish guitar,[11] contains a melody suggesting the Pixies' "Cactus".[16]

Commentary on the album has discussed its sinister, sexual,[26] youthful feel.[20] LeMay wrote that Deal's singing is spooky, and suggests a mythical siren or a young girl hiding a weapon.[30] Steve Albini said that "there was a simultaneous charm to Kim's presentation to her music that's both childlike and giddy and also completely mature and kind of dirty ... [it had a] sort of girlish fascination with things that were pretty but it was also kind of horny. That was a juxtaposition that, at the time, was unusual. You didn't get a lot of knowing winks from female artists at the time."[20] Subjects reviewers have heard in the songs include menstruation ("Iris"),[27] "weird/bad sex" ("When I Was a Painter" and "Only in 3's"),[32] the demise of a lover ("Fortunately Gone"),[32] and a fetus that lives on after an abortion ("Hellbound").[33]

Name and cover[edit]

Deal got the idea for the album's name from a painting that she saw in Boston.[34] Pod's cover was designed by Vaughan Oliver with photography by Kevin Westenberg.[11] Oliver attached a belt of dead eels over his underwear,[35] and performed a fertility dance while Westenberg took pictures of him, using a long exposure.[36] Oliver's inspiration included the need for "a strong male response" (via the "phallic" eels) to the music of the mostly female Breeders.[37] Another motivation was his attempt to charm Kim Deal, and speak to her sense of humor, as he had become enamored with her.[36]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[29]
Blender2/5 stars[38]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[27]
Entertainment WeeklyB−[39]
NME9/10[40]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[26]
Select5/5[41]
Spin4.5/5 stars[42]

Pod was released on May 29, 1990 by 4AD in the UK.[43] For US distribution, 4AD originally licensed it to Rough Trade,[34] which later went bankrupt;[44] in 1992, its American distribution was picked up by Elektra Records.[45] The album peaked at number 22 in the UK[46] and number 73 in the Netherlands.[47]

The New York Times' Karen Schoemer commented on Pod's intelligence and originality.[28] Heather Phares of AllMusic likewise hailed the album as "a vibrantly creative debut", and praised its "creative songwriting, immediate production ... and clever arrangements".[29] Phares, as well as Spin magazine's William Van Meter and Steve Kandell, each considered Pod to stand up favorably to the Pixies' work, or to that of its main songwriter, Black Francis;[29][42][48] in contrast, critic Steve Taylor in The A to X of Alternative Music took the opposite view.[49] The Village Voice's Robert Christgau called the album an "art project" and implied that the Breeders did not "[sound] like a band";[50] he assigned it a "neither" rating, indicating an album that "may impress once or twice with consistent craft or an arresting track or two. Then it won't."[50] Critic Greg Sandow in Entertainment Weekly found the music in some ways interesting, although at times it and the lyrics seemed forced.[39]

Legacy[edit]

In a 1992 interview with Melody Maker, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain described his great admiration for Pod: "The way they structure [the songs is] totally unique, very atmospheric"; he also listed it in his published diary as one of his three favorite albums of all time.[34] In a 2007 chat forum interview, Albini revealed that he considered the album to be among the best he had engineered;[51] a 2015 article in Stereogum likewise ranked it as the eighth best Albini-recorded album ever.[52] Donelly has characterized it as the "truest" of all the albums she has worked on, commenting that "It really feels exactly the way it was when we were doing it."[22] Wiggs has similarly described her "abiding affection" for Pod, noting that all of the people involved in making it were particularly dedicated and attentive to doing quality work.[53] In 2003, Pitchfork ranked the album at number 81 on their list of the Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.[30] Articles in NME and The Guardian have ranked the Breeders' version of "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" among the best covers of Beatles' songs.[54][55]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Kim Deal, except where noted.

No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Glorious"Deal, Ray Halliday3:23
2."Doe"Deal, Ray Halliday2:06
3."Happiness Is a Warm Gun"Lennon–McCartney2:46
4."Oh!" 2:27
5."Hellbound" 2:21
6."When I Was a Painter" 3:24
7."Fortunately Gone" 1:44
8."Iris" 3:29
9."Opened" 2:28
10."Only in 3's"Deal, Tanya Donelly1:56
11."Lime House" 1:45
12."Metal Man"Deal, Josephine Wiggs2:46

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1990) Peak
position
Dutch Albums Chart[47] 73
UK Albums Chart[46] 22

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Following Pod's release, Deal and Donelly did record a demo of the latter's songs in preparation for the Breeders' second album. However, Donelly ended up leaving the group soon after—in 1991—and instead used the compositions for the first album of the new band she formed, Belly. Before parting from the Breeders, she also played on their Safari EP, released in 1992 (see Donelly, Tanya in Frank 2005, pp. 134, 136), but no Donelly compositions appeared on the EP (see Safari CD cover).
  2. ^ Kelley Deal would later join the Breeders for Safari (see Wice 1992).
  3. ^ For the Breeders' first album, Walford used the pseudonym Shannon Daughton, because he did not want his participation to overshadow his role in Slint (see Albini 2002).
  4. ^ V23 was a graphic design studio at which Vaughan and others made art for record companies (see Interview with Graphic Designer Vaughan Oliver).

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Albini 2002
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Aston 2013, p. 319
  3. ^ a b c Donelly, Tanya in Spitz 2004, p. 72
  4. ^ a b Deal, Kim in Frank 2005, p. 132
  5. ^ Erlewine
  6. ^ a b c Donelly, Tanya in Frank 2005, p. 132
  7. ^ a b c Murphy, John in Frank 2005, p. 131
  8. ^ a b Aston 2013, p. 318
  9. ^ a b Donelly, Tanya in Frank 2005, pp. 133–134
  10. ^ Murphy, John in Frank 2005, p. 132
  11. ^ a b c d Pod CD booklet
  12. ^ Harvard, Joe in Frank 2005, p. 133
  13. ^ a b c Murphy, John in Frank 2005, p. 133
  14. ^ Deal, Kim in Spitz 2004, p. 72
  15. ^ a b c d e f Wiggs 2008
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Aston 2013, p. 320
  17. ^ Surfer Rosa Credits
  18. ^ Albini, Steve in Frank 2005, pp. 134–135
  19. ^ Donelly, Tanya in Raible 2016
  20. ^ a b c d Albini, Steve in Frank 2005, p. 135
  21. ^ Watts-Russell, Ivo in Frank 2005, p. 134
  22. ^ a b Donelly, Tanya in Frank 2005, p. 135
  23. ^ Wiggs, Josephine in Thiessen 2016
  24. ^ Donelly, Tanya in Frank 2005, p. 134
  25. ^ Murphy, John in Frank 2005, p. 135
  26. ^ a b c Wolk 2004, p. 104
  27. ^ a b c Larkin 2011, p. 822
  28. ^ a b Schoemer 1990
  29. ^ a b c d Phares
  30. ^ a b c LeMay 2003, p. 2
  31. ^ Alcott, Sasha in Gottlieb 2015
  32. ^ a b Clifton, Piers in Buckley 2003, p. 136
  33. ^ Alexandra 2010
  34. ^ a b c Aston 2013, p. 321
  35. ^ Aston 2013, p. 53
  36. ^ a b Oliver, Vaughan in Manning 2013
  37. ^ Oliver, Vaughan in Aston 2013, p. 53
  38. ^ Dolan
  39. ^ a b Sandow 1990
  40. ^ Lamacq 1990
  41. ^ Linehan 1990, p. 84
  42. ^ a b Kandell 2008, p. 74
  43. ^ The Breeders: Pod (4AD)
  44. ^ Aston 2013, p. 346
  45. ^ The Breeders: Pod: Releases (AllMusic)
  46. ^ a b Breeders: Singles/Albums (UK Charts)
  47. ^ a b Zoeken naar: Breeders (Dutch Charts)
  48. ^ Van Meter 2002, p. 84
  49. ^ Taylor 2006, p. 185
  50. ^ a b Christgau
  51. ^ Steve Albini Drops Anonymity, Answers Questions In Poker Forum
  52. ^ Breihan 2015
  53. ^ Wiggs, Josephine in Thiessen 2013
  54. ^ Chester 2009
  55. ^ Parkinson 2014

References[edit]