The Breeders All Nerve

[4AD; 2018]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: garage rock, surf, experimental pop, psych, singer-songwriter
Others: Superchunk, Courtney Barnett, Belly, Guided By Voices, Shudder To Think, Sebadoh

A Breeders song is often a friend to intentional hesitation. Not zoning out, not exactly stuck. More like craning your neck to a curious sound. Steady, sublimated tension lines, stretched tight enough to faintly twang in your head. In the distance, strength. In the depth, what’s still tangible in artistic heroism. Kim is there keening, poking at her own dread, weariness and wonder, as infinitely glib, sweeping pronouncements about the state of music are made and forgotten. Being a quintessential 90s band, her group’s sound will always recall that time. But it still holds true that listening to any Breeders release shows a band too heady and disconcerting to be easy and nostalgic. People may not find the “Divine Hammer” or “Cannonball” they were looking for, but I definitely hear the same magic inherent on what is arguably one of their best songs, “Safari,” a track that explodes with steamrolling rock majesty to this day.

It may be the Last Splash lineup, but these songs more so recall the aforementioned tracks and Title TK when they aren’t exploring new tones. On that score, “Metagoth” is a wondrous slab of cold dark earth, with Josephine Whigs monotoning over a high wall of futility, like Chelsea Wolfe’s apathetic familiar. It is a fairly staid progression, but Kim’s harmonizing “no one’s here to stay” and the sternly repeated refrain of “90 million miles” elevate it sufficiently. As a fan of both, I’m not sure how I missed hearing Amon Düül II ‘s “Archangel’s Thunderbird” as a Breeders song , but it is perfectly suited to them. Makes one wonder what other German psych-rock gems they could similarly revive (“Jennifer” and “Paper House” come to mind). The gorgeous and heart-rending “Dawn: Making an Effort” is also a refreshing new wrinkle. It plays at just being a bit of drifting lament, only to explode with soaring harmony and uplift (even as the repetition of “Dawn running us down” suggests otherwise).

It’s tricky, because an aficionado wants a new Breeders album to hit, but for more than satiations of idle pinings for MTV buzz clips. But what’s so superb about almost every last song they’ve released, including the aforementioned 90s earworms, sport uniquely slippery inversions of lyrical and melodic hooks. Consider lead single “Wait in the Car.” At a glance, it could be a Last Splash outtake, but it’s a fancy mess all its own. It’s immediate, fussy, and slaphappy, like stumbling into and upending a loaded table and instead of going “shit!” and stooping down to pick it up, letting the mess become you — like slipping into a stilted slam dance with your inconvenience. These songs may take a bit to settle with you, but when that happens, they attain a novel specificity that makes one feel possessive of their idiosyncrasies. The stargazing anthem “Spacewoman” may be the one exception to that. The drifting, sparse section of “I look up/ I’m lonely too” is simply effective, but the rockier portion has a vocal and guitar progression that insists in a numb, rote sort of way. Shame too, as it comes after the showstopping and equally heart-on-the-sleeve title track, and before a slight reworking of the highlight of Deal’s solo single series, “Walking With a Killer.” There’s a good idea in there somewhere, but it’s the only song that doesn’t quite hang together.

Caveats aside, All Nerve is a fresh reminder that Kim Deal is still a fount of inspiration and should keep it going, be it with The Breeders or otherwise. Of course it’s nice to hear the old gang, but as far as this reviewer is concerned, it’s all about that voice and the curious surf/psych human mess music it travels on. Music of grace and exhausted options, humor and ineffable solemnity, art and joy — Deal is ever a vexing and vital part of the clingy fabric of culture. She’s the radiating secret concert in the bowels of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: thrilled to be part of its tradition and history, but blessedly oblivious to its strictures and trinkets. Long may she return to us!

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