Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mountain Battles

Kim Deal's side-project, the Breeders, has been a strange footnote of its parent band, the Pixies. 1993's "Cannonball" single made them one of the odder one-hit wonders of the grunge era. The band wasn't exactly grunge, just adored by grunge luminaries like Kurt Cobain. And the album "Cannonball" came from, Last Splash, went platinum in the US, something a Pixies album never achieved. No wonder Frank Black never let Deal write many Pixies songs.

She hasn't really written many Breeders songs either. The drug problems of Deal's sister, Kelley, have kept the Breeders out of the studio for much of the last two decades. The band's latest album, Mountain Battles, comes six years after the last one, and is only their fourth release overall. Despite the delays, it finds the band trading in the same kind of lo-fi indie rock they were on their first three albums. It's two parts Pixies, one part Sonic Youth.

And the Pixies-lite angle works well for Deal's reedy voice. What Deal sings is less important than how she sings it. It's quite easy to listen to the album without picking up on many of the lyrics. This is both a credit to Deal's emotive, but thin, voice and a disservice to her lyricism. The lyrics aren't bad, just unremarkable. Kelley Deal backs up Kim on most of the songs, and the harmonies are enjoyable. The interplay of vocals on "German Studies," for instance, is one of the song's strong points. I'm just not sure if I remember any of the words.

With production from frequent collaborator Steve Albini, Mountain Battles is best played as loud as possible. Albini's sonic trademarks (live recordings without much overdubbing, noisy guitars, lack of effects) benefit from being experienced at high volume. The music here flows from soft to loud, often within the span of a single song. The intimacy of the recording process is replicated on the album with aplomb. The experience can be likened to one of a band playing a live set in your living room.