Album: All Nerve
Artist: The Breeders
Released: March 2nd, 2018
Highlights: Nervous Mary, MetaGoth, Spacewoman, Dawn: Making an Effort
Although it may be purely coincidental, one has to wonder whether Kim Deal’s creative outpours are not genetically programmed into her being to, as precisely as clockwork, be activated with the passing of every ten years. The legendary bass player and occasional vocalist of the Pixies, who provided a much needed sweetness to Black Francis’ violent madness, founded The Breeders back in 1989 in order to find an artistic outlet for her songwriting, which had no room to breathe inside a band dominated by a great composer that was in the midst of one historical roll. Following the release of the solid “Pod” in 1990 and of the utter indie classic “Last Splash” in 1993, it took The Breeders a whole decade to follow up their influential masterpiece. It was a time that operated drastic changes in the music scene but that – as “Title TK”, from 2003, and “Mountain Battles”, from 2008, would show – failed to erode Kim Deal’s desire to use her group and her writing skills to craft an abrasive brand of straightforward noise rock that relied on sugary female vocals to find the right degree of pop to make itself palatable.
Fast forward another ten years, and yet again Kim Deal – alongside her sister, Kelley, as well as bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPherson – has taken The Breeders out of their Ohio garage for one more rodeo. And if the decade that rushed by between “Last Splash” and “Title TK” did not alter Deal’s approach to writing and The Breeders’ take on indie, neither did the years elapsed between “Mountain Battles” and this new release. The instrumentation is minimalistic to the point “All Nerve” often toys with the contrast between silence and sudden guitar punches; the songs are simple and brief, rarely significantly eclipsing the three-minute mark; and, grounded in this tight scope, The Breeders strive to come up with tracks that try to challenge indie accessibility without breaking it, turning in a collection of tunes that are – simultaneously – inscrutable and direct. What is different in “All Nerve”, especially when put beside its lauded counterparts of the 90s, is that the elusive balance of weirdness and loveliness is slightly off.
The Breeders do still sound like a rough, noisy, and punk garage band; and the vocal interplay between Kim and Kelley remains an irresistible delight. However, “All Nerve” suffers from an overall lack of ideas. Locked in plodding slow-to-mid-tempo grooves, many of the songs come and go without leaving a mark, making them sound like the work of a band that, despite carrying a trademark sound, just reformed to put eleven songs together without considering whether or not they had something urgent to say and showcase. The tunes that do find either a hook or a distinguishing trait to be defined by work fine: “Nervous Mary” stomps forward mightily and takes advantage of the clash between a robotic vocal delivery and a tense melody; “MetaGoth” is haunted by a screaming background guitar that lends it a ghastly aura; “Spacewoman” works thanks to how its silent beautiful verses are broken apart by a chorus whose punchy guitars wash over listeners; and “Dawn: Making an Effort” is a stunning electric ballad that goes drum-less through most of its duration and extracts gorgeous sunrise-evoking music from echoing guitar picking.
These great moments, though, even within a record that is relatively short, are just way too diluted among tracks that are either mundane or plain bad, as it is the case of the two songs that bring the album to a quite anticlimactic close. Despite being true to The Breeders’ ideal of sound, therefore, “All Nerve” amounts to an album that stands somewhere between forgettable and average. It is not that, almost three decades after their debut, time has outpaced the band; after all, the current indie-dominated rock scene looks up to alternative legends such as The Breeders and the Pixies, bands that wrote the book on how to be successful and receive widespread acclaim without compromising their values. It is just that “All Nerve”, amidst a crowded indie environment with plenty of albums that rely on the blueprint designed by those bands, is not good enough to either stand out like a statement by veteran trailblazers or seem significant given the long lull that preceded it.