Is it just sentimentality that makes the return of The Breeders more important than any of the latest albums from the latest bands? Does Mountain Battles really have greater depth, more intense rockers and more left-field experimentation than all of the hip indie releases of the past year? And what does it say about the state of rock that the most vital album of the month comes from an artist who has been making music for over twenty years?
When The Breeders made their first album, they were an alt-rock super-group, produced by Steve Albini and incorporating members of The Pixies, The Throwing Muses, Slint and, er, The Perfect Disaster. Celebrity members were gradually shed, with the band becoming a showcase for Kim and Kelley Deal and disappearing for five year stretches. Little has changed in their sound: the fascination with the possibilities of distorted, slashing guitars; abrupt and jarring shifts of volume and mood; Kim Deal’s expressive voice- by turns sweet, detached or strident. A few new musical tricks- the mysterious atmospherics of Istanbul or the hip-hop beat of Bang On prove that The Breeders haven’t been asleep, but ‘Mountain Battles’ is the welcome return of a guitar rock that is both experimental and earthy.
The Breeders show themselves to be inventively restless, spanning old school rockers and odd-ball ballads. Walk It Off is pure Pixies, from the clanging, menacing bassline to the stabs of distressed guitar. Regalame Esta Noche and Here No More are charming slow burners, evoking 50s Spanish rock’n’roll romanticism and porch-light Americana respectively. And in spite of Deal’s boasts that this album features over-dubs- unlike previous efforts, which aimed at a live sound- there is still a ragged charm infecting both the ferocious (Overglazed) and peaceful (Bang On).
Apart from being a treat for nostalgia buffs, Mountain Battles stands its ground against young pretenders. Harsh, sensitive, unique, reflecting passing trends without loosing a distinctive identity, this is an object lesson is how to make an album- and not a single track over four minutes, either. No flab, just pure expressiveness.