Rhythm & Views

The Breeders

Though the title of the Breeders' latest seems to promise arena-sized guitar riffing (cue a mental picture of the Deal sisters surrounded by lightning strikes, crossing guitar necks like swords), Mountain Battles is more easy-listening than Headbanger's Ball. Which, to be honest, is a major disappointment.

In the past, when Kim Deal balanced her requisite quirkiness with her ability to craft a catchy pop song, she delivered the goods (see: most of Pod, "Safari," "Hag," "Saints" and "Divine Hammer"). But Mountain Battles dials up the weird too much--the gimmicky "Istanbul" sounds like a Le Tigre B-side, and the title track is straight of out of Yoko Ono's playbook. Tracks like "German Studies" and "Spark" have a sci-fi kitsch and work as rock-music oddities, but not much else. Rather than expanding on the syrupy, big sound the Breeders do so well, here, they stay in a noncommittal, midtempo zone that fails to engage.

"Walk It Off" is the best song on the album, perhaps because it channels Deal's knack for writing anthemic pop tunes, also on display with "It's the Love," which rekindles the shimmy-'n'-shake gusto of Last Splash's best moments, and the fuzzy Warhol Factory sound of "No Way." The lush atmospherics of "Night of Joy" and "We're Gonna Rise" are also nice, if slightly forgettable.

Mountain Battles feels like Deal admitting she's given up writing with an audience in mind (beyond, maybe, her drinking buddies in Guided By Voices), and is content to just tinker and play around instead.

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