THE BREEDERS: MOUNTAIN BATTLES (2008)
1) Overglazed; 2) Bang On; 3) Night Of Joy; 4) We're Gonna Rise; 5) German Studies; 6) Spark; 7) Istanbul; 8) Walk It Off; 9) Regalame Esta Noche; 10) Here No More; 11) No Way; 12) It's The Love; 13) Mountain Battles.
Well... no mistake about it, this is yet another Breeders album, and it still got that old Pod vibe. But it is also hard to get rid of the feeling that the Deal sisters sound either a little tired, or a little uninspired. The only more or less upbeat song has to be a cover (ʽIt's The Loveʼ by the Tasties), and the rest drag — not in the curse sense of the word, but literally so. Lots of slow dirges, crawling, stuttering, bleeding guitars, and vocals that already go beyond «somnambulant» and move into «deadly wounded» category. Really, it makes me depressed just to have to review this stuff, let alone listen to it one more time.
Not that the Deal sisters themselves would agree with me, and plenty of reviewers probably wouldn't, either: they just wrote something along the lines of «this is the best Breeders album since [insert random Breeders album here]» and told us lots of things about how the Breeders usually play and record their songs, which was of no use for Breeders fans and of little help for Breeders neophytes, because one million indie-rock bands that came since the Breeders played and recorded their songs like the Breeders did. Anyway, I may be totally confused here, but I sense pain, depression, and tiredness all over these songs — never mind that they were allegedly recorded over a period of five years, at different studios and with varying band lineups.
Do not be deceived by titles like ʽNight Of Joyʼ and ʽWe're Gonna Riseʼ. The former rides upon a quietly threatening bass line and is actually about a night of sorrow, with vocals that stop two steps short of weeping; and ʽWe're Gonna Riseʼ is so slow and plaintive, you kind of get the feeling that it will take a lot of calories (and time, and toil, and trouble) for «us» to rise, whoever «we» are (the Deal sisters, the Breeders, all the good people in general, all the bad people in general, etc.).
The title track is really something — an exercise in «gutter music» if there ever was one, most of it spent by Kim excreting loosely joined phrases that give the illusion of being completely free-form, over an array of electronic pulses and feedback blasts (yes, Steve Albini is at the production wheel again, and how did you guess that?). It's another impressive way to close an album, but it ain't nothing like the humorous-vivacious ʽHufferʼ or the pretty-dreamy ʽDrivin' On 9ʼ — this one just bleeds internally, with high fever, delirium, and everything that comes along. Nothing too overtly shocking (Kim Deal is no Courtney Love, and even her juvenile phase as Kim Deal is long gone), but certainly not a pretty experience.
The problem is, while I can certainly respect the vibe, Mountain Battles has a bit too much in the drab, drag, limp, and stutter department about it to be treated on par with the previous two albums, or even with Pod. This can have its positive effects — it may well be one of those records that grows and grows on you, biding its time and waiting for you to get sick, old, depres-sed, confused, broody, whatever, to appreciate its subtle anti-charms, and at the present time, I am not quite there yet, though I'm getting close. But then again, even this growth requires that the songs be able to work like a lens, gathering your vibes and focusing them with the music — and this doesn't really work with songs like ʽSparkʼ, which just meander between mindless strumming and short shrieking guitar blasts and sound like first-stage demos for classic Portishead («first stage» meaning just that — the stage where you have only just begun visualizing what your song will eventually sound like).
Sometimes Kim is just being cute without a well-understood reason, for instance, when out of the blue she covers a Mexican song (Roberto Cristobal's ʽRegalame Esta Nocheʼ), or creates a generic country tune in her sleepwalking stylistics (ʽHere No Moreʼ). Sometimes the sisters show off their knowledge — ʽIstanbulʼ, for instance, is a «novelty» number that will please lovers of popular etymology (if it so happens that you do not get the "where you're going?" - "to the city!" call-and-response hook of the song, look up the ʽIstanbulʼ page on Wikipedia). Most of the time, though, the experience just consists of the sisters morbidly trading stern chunks of dark vocal pop to equally morbid guitar phrasing (ʽGerman Studiesʼ, ʽSparkʼ, etc.), and you really have to get in the mood to «get» the attitude, or, rather, the necessity of getting the attitude.
I am positively sure that some people will want to defend Mountain Battles as an essential Breeders album — perhaps even go as far as to claim that this one has the deepest mystery of 'em all. And they may be right, but under one condition: that one regards the Breeders themselves as an essential band, worth exploring from their humble «Pixies offshoot» beginning and all the way down to that as-of-yet-to-come age when an 80-year old Kim Deal and a 110-year old Bob Dylan record a duet album of Cole Porter songs. I am not quite sure that Kim Deal is that important a character — I'll take her when she rocks and invents whacko pop hooks, but when she's sulking like this, demanding that we spend too much time on all her whims (including crooning in Spanish), it's a little different.
Thumbs up all the same — far be it from me to put down an etymologically relevant record — but if this is going to be the last full-length Breeders LP (which is far from certain, as the Deals tend to really enjoy their long breaks), it's definitely a low-key exit that offers no true resolution to the saga of the Breeders. Then again, maybe that is the best resolution.