My favorite part of Mountain Battles, the first Breeders record in six years, comes at the beginning of the second song, ‘Night of Joy’, when what sounds like a chorus of Deals deadpans, “I love no one! No one loves me!” It’s not that it’s a particularly good line, because, well, it’s not, but I immediately get a very clear picture in my head of the famously grumpy Steve Albini, who engineered the record, sitting behind his console, hearing the line, then rolling his eyes and going back to thinking about playing poker. I find this image very pleasing.
In fairness, this isn’t the only real lyrical blunder on the album. The Deal sisters have never been the most refined writers, often plagued by a tendency toward straightforward, youthful, angsty complaining. Their occasional greatness, though, is in their ability to make this seeming shortcoming work in their favor, setting it against a musical backdrop that’s decidedly primitive. With the help of Albini, they’ve got the juxtaposition down pat on Mountain Battles. The drums and bass (Albini’s specialty) are unsettlingly deep and plodding, with gentle, slightly airy guitars swirling above them, leaving enough room for the vocals, which actually don’t even utilize all the space they could if they so desired — an admirable display of restraint on behalf of the Deals, who choose instead to keep things sparse. It’s a welcome respite from bands like Tegan and Sara, who are so desperately in love with the sound of their voices that they never, ever stop singing. Ever.
Mountain Battles doesn’t sound particularly current, which, depending on the listener, will work as either a detriment or a benefit. At the very least, it’s a reminder that, despite all of Kelley Deal’s well-documented struggles, she’s one half of one of the most original songwriting teams in the history of American underground rock. It’s a legacy so substantial that to keep making music without occasionally damaging it would be impossible. It is to their eternal credit that they continue seeking to add to their canon. Even if they only get around to it every six years.