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Friday, April 18, 2008

Music Review: Breeders Spawn Another Keeper With Mountain Battles

Review by Noah Mallin

Kim Deal has had a helluva life away from The Pixies, the band in which she first found fame. The Breeders was originally a side project with Tanya Donnely of Throwing Muses (and later Belly). Their 1990 debut Pod is an indie classic, mixing rubbery rhythms and spiky songforms on songs like "Oh" and "Metal Man" and a phenomenal cover of the Beatles "Happiness is a Warm Gun".

By 1992 the Pixies had died and The Breeders had shed Donnely and added Kim's twin sister Kelley for the wonderful Safari EP, but it was Last Splash and the hit single "Cannonball" the following year that brought Kim-mania to its full public flowering.

Deal responded to her first platinum-selling album by recording and scrapping a follow-up, then re-recording the songs under the band name The Amps. Ironically she and Kelley played locally in Ohio as teenagers as Tammy and The Amps, but Kelley had been sidelined thanks to a growing drug problem (never Fed-Ex your dope kids). The Amps lone album was quite charming, lo-fi in a way that reflected Deal's love for fellow Ohioans Guided By Voices.

Finally The Breeders returned scuffed and scruffy for Title TK in 2002 -- beloved by some fans but hardly the poppy crowd-pleaser that Last Splash was.

Which brings us to Mountain Battles. Deal has toured with her old band and both sisters have cleaned up the drugs and boozing since last we heard from them but it makes not a whit of difference to their sound. They take a long time to make albums that feel gloriously tossed off, like eavesdropping on a basement rehearsal at times.

Battles has those glorious breathy-woozy-sassy Deal sister harmonies in full force and a generally strong set of songs that touch on most of Deal's various sounds without sounding like a retread. The songs sung in Spanish (a trick better left to erstwhile Pixies-mate Black Francis) and German don't go anywhere good but the first five tracks are a welcome beginning.

"Overglazed" is just some rapturous instrument bashing with Kim announcing sunnily "I can feel it..oooo" and yes, so can we. "Bang On" is just as simple, a repetitive beat pounding away with a sweet little guitar filigree and the Deal sisters musing "I want no-one, no-one wants me..." and words to that effect which put me in mind of Ben Gazzara's bitter character in Todd Solondz's pitch-black comedy Happiness. His wife is convinced that he's ending the marriage because he must be in love with someone else. "I love no-one!" he repeatedly shouts.

Then the achingly gorgeous "Night of Joy" floats in, one of several deliciously mellow songs on Mountain Battles that allow the listener to wallow in Deal's tip-toeing chord changes and the sister's indelible harmonies. "We're Gonna Rise" is another such track.

There are a few moments like "Spark" that get bogged down in the willful twistiness that marked Title TK but all is forgiven when "Walk it Off" comes strutting through the speakers with the kind of descending bassline bop that made Last Splash a dorm room must-have.

Overall a welcome return indeed.

Here's a fan vid of "It's The Love" with footage from Cinema Paradiso:

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