Release Date: Apr 8, 2008
Record label: 4AD
It only took the Breeders a little under six years to deliver the follow-up to Title TK, which is progress, considering that it was nearly a decade between that album and Last Splash, and especially since Kim Deal was occupied with the Pixies reunion for a couple of those years. Mountain Battles sounds like progress, too: while all Breeders albums have, in varying proportions, a mix of whip-smart pop songs, droning rockers, and experimental tangents, the blend of these sounds hasn't sounded this satisfying since the Pod days. Deal and crew aren't making a big pop push à la Last Splash, and they don't sound as defiant as they did on Title TK -- but, as on that album, Mountain Battles feels like the band are doing exactly what they want and not worrying too much about what anyone else thinks about it.
The Breeders could trademark the term “long-awaited” as Kim and Kelley Deal reconvene for Mountain Battles, another instalment of the lo-fi analogue love they embraced six years ago when they released Title TK to critical (and aging alt-rocker) acclaim, yet didn’t produce another Cannonball and the band was subsequently cut loose by Elektra Records. While previous albums Pod and the 1993 alt-slacker classic Last Splash thrived on the fuzzy ebb and flow, Mountain Battles makes a point of not delivering the pogo-inducing payoff found on classics like Iris, No Aloha or Cannonball. This is Kim Deal’s version of scuffed-up shoegazer rock, albeit with a shit-eating grin shining off the moonlight.
The Breeders, as Steve Albini was the first to point out, have always been a twin thing. Even their best work has been full of more inside jokes between Kim and Kelley Deal than the rest of the world is ever likely to know. That can result in unbelievable highs (Pod, “Cannonball,” “Divine Hammer”), or baffling lows (Title TK, the rest of Last Splash).
Written and demoed during the Pixies’ creatively inert reunion tour, Mountain Battles, the Breeders’ second album since 1993, gives the impression that Kim Deal would rather do anything than write big, melodic bass-dominating alt rock. Not that you can blame her for wanting to reassert her artistic integrity – playing for fat paycheques with people whose company you don’t particularly enjoy will have that effect. The end product, however, is an album easy to admire yet tough to love.
After a six-year recording absence, ex- Pixies bassist Kim Deal and her twin sister, Kelley, have finally reemerged with their long-running side project, and the world is…underwhelmed. The punchy pop thrust of Last Splash, the Breeders ’93 breakout, is almost entirely absent here; though Mountain Battles is hardly terrible and even pleasantly trippy-fuzzy at times, the lethargy is nearly overwhelming, and the droning guitars and vague, doubled-up vocals sound more smothered than soothing. The record comes off like punk-rock outtakes for the heavily narcotized.
Let's say you're in a philosophy course and you have a paper due. Your professor tells you there isn't any minimum number of pages, but that she generally expects around 20. It would take big-time guts to turn in a one-page paper - not an ill-considered, started-an-hour-before-it-was-due one-page paper, but a serious one-page paper that really attempted to wrangle with a philosophical problem and distill it into 300 well-written words.
Not that Kim Deal sounds tired on Mountain Battles, but the title of chiming opener "Overglazed" probably isn't a coincidence. Deal; her sister, Kelley, on guitar; drummer Jose Medeles; and bassist Mando Lopez return from 2002's Title TK in a mellow tone. On the cascading "We're Gonna Rise," she purrs, "I'll tell the story, or not," with her usual milky nonchalance, the album riding that more personal wave.