Kim Deal wants you to know that she’s still a sentient being. “I can feeeeeeeeel it!” she howls over and over on “Overglazed,” the opening track on the first Breeders disc in six years. It’s a hair-raising statement, and something totally unexpected from someone who hasn’t been doing all that well these past few years: She’s been dumped by a major label (although who hasn’t these days?), has run her course (for now) with the Pixies reunion, and lives at home with her mother in Dayton, Ohio. For someone who’s also battled (and overcome) rock-star excess issues, it’s a wonder that Kim has any sensory receptors left at all.
But that’s how Mountain Battles starts: two minutes of our comeback kid joyfully shouting those four life-affirming words over unbridled, Keith Moon–style drumming and the sexiest guitar riff this side of the band’s breakthrough hit, “Cannonball.” In many ways, what follows is the perfect distillation of the Breeders’ catalog (and Deal’s attendant side project, the Amps): “Overglazed” whips itself into a hurricane like 1992’s “Safari,” “Walk It Off” swaggers sideways like “Tipp City,” and “Night of Joy” mines the spooky girl-group pop that Kim experimented with on 2002’s Title TK. There are some weird curveballs—”German Studies” is sung entirely in zie Deutsch, while Kim’s sister Kelley takes lead vocals on the perfectly lovely Mexican ballad “Regalame Esta Noche”—but given Battles‘ huge sonic range, those diversions aren’t necessarily so strange.
The Breeders have undergone numerous lineup changes over the years, though drummer Jose Medeles and bassist Mando Lopez reprise their Title TK roles. (Producer Steve Albini also returns, making these songs sound, like, totally raw, dude!) But none of these people really matter: “Walk It Off” features crystal bass thrums that exactly mimic Kim’s playing in the Pixies; it’s as if she plucked the notes herself. Breeders records are largely Deal’s thing, and that’s just fine. A notorious studio obsessive, her artfully written, journal-style confessions (“I ride shotgun from the facility/Whistling blues and shrieking luck/Oh yeah!”)—not to mention her hauntingly beautiful vocal phrasing, as evinced by her backup melodies on “Velouria,” from the Pixies movie Acoustic: Live at Newport—have always made Kim seem less like an indie formalist and more like a Southern bluesman. You just know writing this album helped get Kim through many lonely nights. She’s forgiven for holding onto it for so long.
The Breeders play Webster Hall June 10, websterhall.com