I feel like The Breeders are one of those bands that will slip through the cracks on a lot of year-end lists, but the more I listen to Mountain Battles, the more I think it’s one of the brightest things we’ve seen this year. Kim and Kelly Deal returned from six years of silence (their last album, Title TK, came out in 2002) with a subtle, understated and beautiful collection of songs. In a time that seems to latch onto immediately gratifying hooks, overwhelming onslaughts of “noise,” “psychedelia” and so on, The Breeders saunter back onto the scene with music that breathes instead of twitching, screaming and pounding its way into your head.
From one perspective, Mountain Battles might appear to be a deceiving title for such a laid back album. But think about it: If mountains themselves were to “do battle,” what would it be like? It would be slow and imperceptible, moving at tectonic speed. The Deals don’t decelerate quite that much, but they do force you to spend some time with their songs before the delicate topography comes into focus.
“We’re Gonna Rise” could be the optimistic anthem of the recession that we didn’t know our economy’s been in all year. Other tunes put different pins on the map: “German Studies” taking us to Europe, “Istanbul” to the Middle East, a cover of “Regálame Esta Noche” to Latin America and “Here No More” to the U.S.’s own folk and country roots. The title track embodies the album’s sparseness, hovering along on quivering organ notes, isolated noodles of guitar and lyrics that Kim seems to let fall at whatever pace at which the ideas care to unwind. I saw critics use the words “narcoleptic” and “narcotic” as negative descriptions of this album, but I’d like to spin those terms in a positive light. Mountain Battles is on the edge of a dream, sometimes nodding into a subconscious wonderland, sometimes opening its eyes into the pristine morning sunlight.