Shame on me for not keeping up to speed on Kim Deal. Like many people, I just plain stopped paying attention. It’s not that I dislike her; in fact, I regard the first two Breeders records very highly and think that they hold up well today. But there are dozens of albums, artists, memories, whatever, from the 90s that I’ve left behind to collect dust. The Breeders just happened to fall into that category, right next to Belly, Veruca Salt, Boss Hogg, et all.
Thanks to a Pixies reunion, the new Breeders album is receiving a lot more press than the band’s true reunion album, Title TK, which I completely overlooked when it was released.
So here I am, proving that the additional hype courtesy of that aforementioned reunion must have worked, because I’m suddenly catching up with Kim, reading all about her and her sister’s addictions, and noticing in the process that The Breeders circa ’08 are missing half of the members that helped Last Splash sell over a million copies.
Nitpicking aside, this new version the band itself all about Kim who returns with a wonderfully brief and curiously subdued effort that totally ignores any attempt at commercial appeal. It opts to bypass those infectious songs and focus instead on delivering a low-key effort intent on creative progression.
It works; Mountain Battles trades in prior traditions of spontaneity and sisterhood for a dark and at times unsettling tone.
“Overglazed,” the album’s opener and most aggressive track, features one lyric: “I can feel it,” perhaps a testament to Kim or Kelley’s sobriety or perhaps the result sheer lyrical laziness. Whatever: her reverb-soaked vocals underneath a wall of distorted guitar and manic drumming belie the rest of the album’s decidedly underhanded strategy.
Mountain Battles is not an album that will be awarded any watershed moments of new musical direction. It does seem The Breeders, and I’m talking about Kim and Kelley here, have reached a point where their own technical inabilities are placing the band in the dubious distinction of musical redundancy. And when they award Steve Albini the role of album “recorder,” you’re pretty much guaranteed that every inch of their musical limitations are going to be prevalent.
Which is why the tone of Mountain Battles is unsettling. As hard as it may seem, they’ve actually managed an album that serves as a departure from the rest of their catalog without having to learn any new chords.
It’s strange going, this sparse and fragmented affair, with Kim sounding curiously subdued and introspective at times. There’s not a lead-off single to be found throughout Mountain Battles that will compare to those nostalgic moments of Pod or Last Splash, where at least a few cuts could be heard in your city’s obligatory alternative radio station, cleverly labeled as “The Edge” or “The End” or some other such classic rock destruction tag line.
Mountain Battles is itself a bell toll to that era while managing to be firmly indebted to it. It could have very easily been recorded and released after Last Splash, becoming that decidedly non-commercial effort that caused them to be dropped and their casual fans to lose interest.
It would also become the album that long-term fans would refer to as the overlooked gem that was unjustly ignored by the majority of those millions who purchased Last Splash. But let’s be honest here, there’s a good chance that it’s going to be overlooked now, as the climate, industry, and performers themselves are vastly different than they were back in ’93. Added to this, Mountain Battles is an intentionally difficult album, going from surf, folk, traditional alternative, and country numbers at the drop of the hat, sung in either English, German, and Spanish, and coming in at a few minutes over a half-hour.
That’s too long of a ride for some, but for those who stick with it, they’ll find some rewarding moments. Mountain Battles does was no other Breeders record has managed to do before: establish Kim Deal as a vital artist whose own musical contribution to the independent landscape is just as important as the ones where she’s been assigned a supportive role.
In other words, it pays to keep up to speed on Kim Deal.