Review: The Breeders' Mountain Battles

CD of the week: The Breeders' Mountain Battles

The Breeders Mountain Battles (4AD) £10.99

In the popular imagination, Kim Deal is the Midwestern May Queen of American alterna-pop, woefully underused in the Pixies. That's what Kurt Cobain thought and it is true, up to a point. With 1988's 'Gigantic', Deal authored a deathless indie disco staple. She bettered it with another anthem, 1993's 'Cannonball', by her own band, an on-off concern fleshed out by Kim's twin sister Kelley and a revolving door of associates.

Those hankering for a return to a 'Cannonball'-era sugar rush will have found the last Breeders album, 2002's murky Title TK, mystifying. Coinciding with Deal's stint in rehab, Title TK is best understood as Deal's gnarled rebuff to the rise of digital-recording technology. Deal is really a sound stylist, an analogue obsessive, and a perfectionist. Mountain Battles, the fourth Breeders record in 18 years, was demoed during downtime on the Pixies' reunion tour and mastered at Abbey Road Studios where 'you can still do half-inch tape directly on to acetate'.

It is a loosely conjoined set of ideas matured over six years. Many of them are sparse latterday experiments. But there are plenty of the deceptively breezy pop songs that are Deal's bread and butter.

The delightful 'Walk it Off' features the Pixies' bass sound (now played by Mando Lopez) and Deal's clear, reedy authority. 'Bang On' shows the Ting Tings how primal pop is done, with a rattly beat and a cheap guitar, arpeggiating for its life. The Deal sisters remain reliably goofy, discovering psychedelia (on 'Overglazed' and 'Istanbul') late in life, once they have both come off drugs. There's a song sung in remedial German, too.

Yet it is Deal's depths, rather than her toothsome shallows, that commend Mountain Battles. 'Night of Joy' is a heartbreaking Julee Cruise tribute whose line 'give me this night' prefigures the cover of 'Regalame Esta Noche' by Colombian band Los Trio.

The album-closing title track - a daring and pregnant bit of audio art sung virtually a cappella against the hum of a machine - is almost unbearably sad. Anyone can listen to the Breeders jumping drunkenly up and down. Now, the Deals have mastered the space of headphones in darkness.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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