‘All Nerve’ is a solid return from lengthy hiatus
Owen Lane | Tuesday, March 20, 2018
In 2018, the definition of music continues to expand. Even hip-hop music, once the edgiest genre of music and considered abrasive and threatening to middle-class American values, has become the dominant popular musical genre, complete with an endless queue of traditionalists complaining about the genre’s unpleasant new direction. So, what can a rock band even do to grab your attention in 2018? I’m sure Kim Deal and the rest of The Breeders found themselves asking that question multiple times while recording “All Nerve.”
As many alternative-rock fans will know, The Breeders’ front-woman Kim Deal played bass for Pixies and had a notoriously rocky relationship with front-man Black Francis. After the release of Pixies’ now-classic record “Doolittle,” Kim Deal formed The Breeders with fellow female musicians from the Boston area. Eventually, Deal’s identical twin sister Kelley would join the group (even though, at first, she famously did not know how to play the guitar) and The Breeders became an alternative rock band whose clout rivaled that of Pixies. The group’s record production became spotty and infrequent in the 2000s, eventually leading to a nine year recording hiatus from 2009 until now. On the new “All Nerve” The Breeders do not seem to aim for anything new, but rather retain the crisp punch of their ’90s rock and roll sound.
On “All Nerve,” The Breeders continue to nail those same aspects of their sound that made their music great from the start. Think of the iconic bass riff in their ’90s hit “Cannonball” — equally effective bass riffs can be detected in almost every track on “All Nerve.” The production decisions here are some of the album’s strongest qualities. Particularly, the band emphasized Kim Deal’s entrancing vocals more than usual on most of the album’s tracks. Some songs, like “MetaGoth”, combine The Breeders’ typical alt-rock sound with dreamy, droning guitars. On the track, these guitar sounds, combined with a pulsating bass riff, create a delightfully unique noise. The album features only one guest appearance, but it’s certainly a potent one. Contemporary female rock heroin Courtney Barnett drops in on the orchestra-inspired rock-epic tune “Howl at the Summit.”
“Spacewoman,” the longest song on the album at 4:22, manages to blurt out bursts of emotion through cryptic lyrics about baseball stadiums and beach balls. Deal opens the song cooing, “Spacewoman, how lonely does it feel?” This track manages to sound both tranquil and suspenseful, while Deal conveys the mysterious lyrics that have the power to grip a curious listener for an entire album. The Breeders allow themselves to sound most maximalist and grand on “Dawn: Making an Effort.” Backing vocals harmonize behind Deal’s fascinating lyrics, while the bass drum pounds with a steady intensity. The track is an ecstatic outing complete with reverberating guitars that make The Breeders sound like a grandiose, punk-rock version of Beach House.
There’s something to be said about an aging band that can still manage to make better and more interesting musical work with a traditional four-piece group than most bands can do with an overflowing studio. If you enjoy rock, The Breeders are simply never to be ignored. Much like the music of The Breeders of the ’90s and Pixies before them, “All Nerve” is a testament to the overwhelming potential of simplicity. The Breeders understand that music should never sacrifice feeling in pursuit of some sort of idealized musical statement. Simply stated, these women (and man) understand how to make compelling music, and that will never go out of style.
Album: “All Nerve”
Artist: The Breeders
Tracks: “MetaGoth” “Howl at the Summit” “Dawn: Making an Effort”
If you like: Pixie, Queens of the Stone Age, Batfangs, Guided By Voices