The Breeders – [Album]

Monday, 14 April 2008

On their last album (2002’s Title TK) the Breeders outfit always seemed like a rusty spark plug spurting inspiration here and there but never switching on to the full alt-rock blast that songs like “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer” portended. Of course a lot has happened since the mid-1990s when the band formed as a side project for Kim Deal (bassist for the Pixes). For fans that grumbled over the last break between Breeders albums, the six-year hiatus between the disappointing Title TK and this year’s leaner Mountain Battles can be justified for by Kim's admission into rehab in 2002 and the ensuing Pixies reunion tours that kept her on the road for a large portion of 2004-05.

With Mountain Battles the Breeders catch up with many old bandmates, including bassist Mando Lopez, drummer Jose Medeles, and producer Steve Albini. The old school camaraderie shines on gutsy multi-lingual experiments, like “German Studies” and “Regalame Esta Noche,” with Kim singing in German and Spanish respectively. The slow simmer dancing of “Noche” and the clanging punk pseudo-verbalism found on “Studies” cut straight to the squirming underbelly of a band and album that are ensconced in their obstinate decision to not pick one style. As it’s always been, that untarnished resolve works for the Deal sisters and adds to some of their waning charm. That charm’s mettle is still being battle-tested on Battles.

The Breeders were never really considered a band of arena rock caliber (leave that to the Pixes) but in a strange self-made fairy tale perhaps, Kim creates her own bombast on the guitar loops of the opener “Overglazed.” Its minimal chorus—over clattering drums—finds Kim singing what one could construe as her emotive battle cry for the next 36 minutes – "I can…I can feel it!"

Quickly her band trades in its alt-rock sheen for “Bang On”’s new wave blown-out speaker bass. The Deal sister chants that are more playful than important. “Night of Joy”’s spooky nocturnal melody crawls into your ears due largely to the fact that the Breeders play extra soft. “We’re Gonna Rise” continues Kim’s plodding waltz through her past and chases the promise of the “light on [her] face” despite being “out of rank, out of range.” It seems that Mountain Battles is truly the sound of someone climbing out from under the crippling hand of drug abuse and the murky dissonance of “Spark”’s guitar tones wallows a little too much on a bad feeling.

There are those points of reference that seem to light upon Kim’s face but they are few and far between. “Istanbul” features beautiful piano and rumbling electric guitar as Medeles’ insistent drumstick ticking keeps a neurotic time. “Walk It Off,” “No Way” and “It’s The Love” sound like the kind of songs that splattered all over the Breeder’s bright burn-out/crossover album, Last Splash. Amongst the dreary grays and blacks around them, colorful guitars and buoyant drumming keep the cloistered and sometimes dreary pop of Appalachian folk strummer, “Here No More” and the title track from pulling the tail end of a rather dutiful album. The latter is the band’s inaugural foray into non-analog world. Their isolated desertion of their previous “All Wave” philosophy (i.e. – play and record everything in analog) is pretty shaky to say the least.

Just as Last Splash foreshadowed the Breeders’ radiating collapse, Mountain Battles’ chameleonic fits and spurts point towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe in another six years we’ll get the Deal sisters with a full head of “no wave” steam. For now they’ll keep on fighting in their own gritty lo-fi way.

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