If this is the Breeders' swan song, it'll probably be a big deal
The fad of indie-rock reunions seems to be finally wearing off, if only because every band out there that could reunite already has. Lou Barlow has been splitting his time between tours and reissues with both his seminal bands, and even the esoteric but very influential Feelies are getting back together for a few gigs. The only holdout at the moment is Pavement, and that's likely because it's too soon.
Of course, the band who turned the indie-reunion thing into a full-blown phenomenon—and set the mold for tours, T-shirts, festival appearances and DVDs—were the Pixies. It seemed like if a historic band famous for in-fighting could settle their differences in the pursuit of nostalgia-heavy earnings, anyone could. But a new Pixies album has yet to come out of their prolonged victory lap, making the whole thing seem more about raking in cash than reigniting that old musical spark.
You know what, though? That's fine. Because we have the Breeders, Kim Deal's other band. And they have a new album. It's called Mountain Battles, it's on 4AD, it's recorded by Steve Albini, and it's one of the best records you're going to hear this year from any band, new or old.
It's okay to be skeptical. The Breeders' last outing, 2002's Title TK, was forgettable. And it's been a long time since Last Splash fleshed out the pop side of '90s alternative and its precursor, Pod, spiked the dreamy/droney 4AD aesthetic with growling rock chicks and a Beatles cover. But listen again to those two records, and you'll get a rush to the head that's much more than nostalgia. It's more like, "Fuck, I forgot how great this band were."
Mountain Battles triggers the same gut reaction. From the opening intonation of the line "I can feel it" over a midlevel squall of distorted instruments, it's a rock album that's as etched with weird sonic details as it is mighty and molten. That's a high compliment for the two guys—drummer Jose Medeles and bassist Mando Lopez—who anchor the Deal sisters' idiosyncratic bursts of guitar this time around. After an existence predicated on a revolving-door policy, it's refreshing to learn that this is the best Breeders lineup since the founding days with Belly's Tanya Donelly.
The Breeders began as a side project, remember, which may be why they still sit in the Pixies' long shadow. And almost 20 years after they formed, the Breeders are as well-known for their in-house turbulence and splinter bands (Kim's the Amps, Kelley's the Kelley Deal 6000) as for their albums. All of which, again, add to the triumph of Mountain Battles.
It's a shaggy, all-over-the-place album, moored by a low and steady rhythm section and dolloped with the Deals' slack singing and dreamy lyrics. Two songs are sung in other languages: the sundown-y "Regalame Esta Noche" and the spare garage-rock thumper "German Studies." On the penultimate "It's the Love," Kelley sounds like a soured cheerleader snarling over a muddied and ramshackle early Pavement tune.
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My personal favorite is the mellowest of the batch, "We're Gonna Rise." Kim sings in a sweet register tugged with the rasp of too many years spent chain-smoking. The song creeps along at a melancholy whisper before a frustrated guitar noisily shoulders its way in, only to fall away again for the final verse/chorus. Equally pretty is the ancient-sounding folk song "Here No More," the rare track untouched by jagged interference.
That's not to say there aren't loud and dirty songs here: "Bang On" is a sputtering affair that recalls TV On the Radio, and "Walk It Off" is a bass-heavy anthem that's as casual as it is commanding. But mostly this album is a midtempo brooding session. It's partly for that reason that the experimental edges are so haunting; they often hit when we've been lulled into a pleasant stupor.
That could make for a sleepy live set when the Breeders hit the desert for Coachella and the requisite side show. But between their back catalog, revived rhythm section, infectious coolness, and Kim and Kelley's crackling chemistry, there's every indication that these shows and the tour that follows will be as unforgettable and singularly strange as their new album. How many reunions can you say that about?
The Breeders perform April 25. Time to be announced; also with Colour Revolt at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (714) 647-7704; www.theglasshouse.us. April 29, 7 p.m. $21.50.