|by Blair Fraipont|
|The Breeders Mountain Battles 4AD
It's been six years since Kim and Kelly Deal's last album, Title TK appeared, and is a year shy of the seven it took to follow 1994's Last Splash. These long gestation periods are never intentional, and yet the music is not tainted by the delay. If anything, The Breeders are like the fine wine which ages slowly with the aid of time and care. I imagined that this record had been the one most labored over. That may be true. However, Mountain Battles captures them at their most raw and rough sounding ever.
The magic of this band is that their artful endeavors never consume a song or album. They temper their ambitions with simplicity and brevity. They're one of the most unpretentious art bands I can recall, and for that alone, I'll always cherish their works. For instance, without any irony, they celebrated their record release party at the local VFW hall in their Ohio hometown.
What this record has that their others don't is an overall warm and muddy sound. Recorded in analog, there's a perverse thrill to hear that soft tape hiss on a major band's album in 2008. The beauty of "Night of Joy" is underscored by this. The delicate sound is almost eerie as Kim quietly pleads, "come home." The same scrappy production gives the heavy, danceable drumming of "Bang On" a demo-like quality.
There are some stylistic turns taken on Mountain Battles that give the band's oeuvre some variety. "Overglazed" opens the album with crashing, tumultuous Keith Moon-esque drumming with Deal singing, "I can feel it" echoing over the proceedings. "German Studies" is a charging minor-rock riff with clumsy overlapping vocals sung in that foreign tongue. "Regalame Esta Noche" is a cover of a popular Mexican bolero tenderley performed by Kelly. The long forgotten country and western sway of "Here No More" captures one of the most delicate sentiments the Deal sisters have set to tape yet.
On "Spark" and "We're Gonna Rise" they revisit familiar territory with sluggish tempos and hazy melodies. The former is classic Breeders with imagery such as, "the clouds were bruised when the day broke" and opaque ones like, "I am chewing power lines and in the yard throwing spark." The final title track is a droning lugubrious mess which is a coda that could be about the struggle for survival, ("I ride shotgun to the facility, singing blues...") or just a slow-core freak out.
Despite the slight genre skipping and transitions from achingly slow meanderings to the mildly fast punk numbers, Mountain Battles holds up well. Thankfully, the low-fidelity is a blessing not a curse as the band's ethos remains intact. I eagerly await their next record in 2014.
Blair Fraipont lives in New York City. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 07 June 13, 2008