There was more to country music legend Hank Williams than boozing and a difficult marriage, y’know
In the intervening six years much has happened – Kim went to rehab, her other band Pixies reformed then broke up again and the famously antiquarian Breeders recorded their very first song using digital equipment (the ambient, math-rocking title track). ‘Mountain Battles’ feels weighty with that experience. Recorded over a number of years with three producers (they’ve retained ‘Title TK’ and ‘Pod’ helmer Steve Albini and added Antony And The Johnsons engineer Erika Larson and Mars Volta collaborator Manny Nieto) it sees the Deal sisters flitting between genres with a gleeful wanderlust. Like their previous peak, 1993’s ‘Last Splash’, ‘Mountain Battles’ is an album that doesn’t know if it wants to stay and chat or leave you perched on a bar stool as it runs away with the fairies.
Unlike the woozy ‘Title TK’ (which felt like The Breeders treading water) ‘Mountain Battles’ is the sound of a band pushing out of their comfort zone. From the sparse hip-hop beats of ‘Bang On’ to the shiny Led Zeppelin-isms of opener ‘Overglazed’, this is an album of beautiful and sometimes puzzling complexities. The German-sung, spikey and delirious ‘German Studies’ jangles along at a cranky speed, while ‘Istanbul’ clicks and hops like nervous schoolgirls playing pat-a-cake on a land mine.
However, it’s on the slower songs that ‘Mountain Battles’ really comes into its own. Both the honey-covered, reverb-heavy ‘Regalame Esta Noche’ and the dusky ‘Night Of Joy’ are imbued with a cinematic sense of drama. These two tracks feel like moments where Kim Deal’s perfectionist ideals are equalled by the sonic results. ‘Here No More’, meanwhile, is a straight up tear-in-your-beer country ballad. It sounds like an acoustic song the Deals would have played at their first truckstop gigs as early teens. Within this eclecticism there are two constants that hold the sound together. Firstly, there’s Kim Deal’s voice which, despite years of excess, still talks to you like a familiar friend and glows like the warm night light of home. Secondly, the sisters’ harmonies sync into each other with a wonderful creepiness worthy of those twins in The Shining.
A couple of songs that fall back on the refracted, lo-fi jamming sound of their last album (‘No Way’, ‘Spark’) do not detract from the album’s specialness. ‘Mountain Battles’ is both a joyfully lived-in and boundary-free album.
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