The Breeders – Mountain Battles

The Breeders
Mountain Battles

“I’m lazy, but I’m not super-lazy,” knowingly-quipped Kim Deal in a recent interview with MOJO on the drawn-out recording of Mountain Battles, the first Breeders album since 2002’s also lengthily-gestated Title TK. Unlike her on/off Pixies sparing-partner, Frank Black, Kim Deal certainly doesn’t possess a prolific work-ethic; preferring instead to deliver little and not very often. Whilst it might be inaccurate to suggest that The Breeders have strictly followed a ‘quality-not-quantity’ philosophy, it is oddly relieving to find a band resigned to generously-spaced-out releases in these over-crowded musical times. After all, if you’ve not got much to say, why say it too often? Had the Pixies live reunion not happened then it’s conceivable that The Breeders would have been ground-down again to repetition and over-familiarity. At least by taking another sabbatical, we have the chance – in theory at least – to properly appraise The Breeders album-in-hand with less of the background baggage.

Anyone expecting a return to the angular art-rock of 1990’s Pod debut or the grunge-pop of 1993’s platinum-selling Last Splash, best look/listen away now. Those predicting a straight-forward facsimile of Title TK may also be caught a bit off-guard. Although Mountain Battles does share the raw defiantly non-digital fidelity of its predecessor, it goes far further into diverse deconstructionism; in fact it feels more or less like a Kim Deal solo album. Not that familiar faces are totally absent (twin sister Kelley Deal, the Title TK rhythm section of bassist Mando Perez and drummer Jose Medeles, as well as Steve Albini on some production duties), but Mountain Battles sounds as if Kim Deal has been mindfully prioritising playing with the studio over playing with a full-band. Which makes for a fragmented though rarely less-than-intriguing 13-track selection.

The opening “Overglazed”, with its My Bloody Valentine-like fuzz and drone, is a great – albeit deceptive – way to start proceedings. The bouncy “Bang On” quickly follows suit with its rudimentary drum-thwacking and multi-tracked vocal chants, pleasantly recalling Luscious Jackson’s grubbiest early-wares or perhaps even a depoliticised Le Tigre. Things slide into more atmospheric terrain for the dreamy “Night of Joy” (which remembers Kim’s divine “Little Trouble Girl” collaboration with Sonic Youth) and the slowly-uncoiling “We’re Gonna Rise” (a sequel-of-sorts to “Off You” from Title TK). A bizarrely invigorating twist occurs with the garage-rock-meets-Krautrock chug of “German Studies” (sung in the language of its title), though its impact is offset with the plodding and directionless murk of the ensuing “Spark”.

The LP’s quirky-groove streak soon picks-up again with the inspired “Istanbul”, featuring a voodoo percussion and keyboard combination similar to “The She” (from Title TK) but with even more alluring execution. Curiously, the most ‘traditional’ sounding Breeders track, the scratchy “Walk It Off”, falls rather flat in its wake. Another stylistic and linguistical twist occurs with the Kelley Deal-sung and Spanish-tongued “Regálame Esta Noche” (a Mexican ballad learnt from Colombians Los Tri-O) which revels unrepentantly in balmy schmaltz before gently gliding into the sublime stripped-down country-harmony-fired “Here No More”, that has a beatific Hank Williams hue to it. Somewhat frustratingly, another slightly sluggish rocker (“No Way”) breaks the serene spell-casting momentum but the more sprightly trash ‘n’ roll of “It’s The Love” (happily revisiting the choppy delights of Kim’s one-album side-project The Amps) more than makes up for it. The rather too-short album concludes with its titular track, that provides the most disarmingly ‘non-rock’ moment. With Kim cooing eerily over a wobbly keyboard and distant acid guitar lines, she evocatively echoes Helium’s Mary Timony at her most bewitchingly-macabre.

Mountain Battles undoubtedly lacks a truly powerful singular Breeders moment – like say “Hellbound”, “Cannonball”, “Head To Toe” or “Huffer” – for Kim Deal to prove she still has the true twisted magic of melody lurking within. However, the absence of such an overbearing song has paradoxically freed-up her rich imagination, fashion-free impulses and eclectic reach. Taken as a whole, this endearingly strange collection should force casual-listeners to appreciate the importance of the album as a convoluted, contrary and eternally charismatic art form, which can still be defended by even the most work-shy of songsmiths.