It only took the Breeders a little under six years to deliver the follow-up to Title TK, which is progress, considering that it was nearly a decade between that album and Last Splash, and especially since Kim Deal was occupied with the Pixies reunion for a couple of those years. Mountain Battles sounds like progress, too: while all Breeders albums have, in varying proportions, a mix of whip-smart pop songs, droning rockers, and experimental tangents, the blend of these sounds hasn't sounded this satisfying since the Pod days. Deal and crew aren't making a big pop push à la Last Splash, and they don't sound as defiant as they did on Title TK -- but, as on that album, Mountain Battles feels like the band are doing exactly what they want and not worrying too much about what anyone else thinks about it. "It's the Love," the song most like the Breeders' quintessential sweet-but-tart punk-pop, is actually a cover of fellow Dayton band the Tasties, and Kim's delivery is so cheeky that it almost feels like she's affectionately sending up that sound. "It's the Love" is placed next to the album's oddest song, which happens to be the title track and finale: full of murky keyboards and a melody that plays hide-and-seek, "Mountain Battles" sounds unfinished and unsettling. Yet there are a lot of other sounds between those extremes, including "Bang On"'s distorted drums and witty guitars, which prove that Deal is still as skilled at pop collages as she was during "Cannonball"'s heyday; "German Studies" and "Walk it Off" should also please Last Splash fans craving more of Deal's sassy pop. However, the flirty, slow-dance cover of "Regalame Esta Noche," which shows off the pure beauty of her voice; the percussive, call-and-response jam "Istanbul," and "Here No More," a country number so simple and effortless it feels like it could be a cover, make Mountain Battles eclectic and even a bit daring. Deal's willingness to let the album's songs take their own paths is even more daring; from "Overglazed"'s impressionistic rock, which opens Mountain Battles with stampeding drums and cascading vocals, to the wandering, surf-tinged ballad "Night of Joy," many tracks feel open-ended and sometimes downright elusive. But, even if "Spark" remains little more than a moody sketch and "We're Gonna Rise" moves as slowly as dust turning in a sunbeam, they add to Mountain Battles' ebb and flow, with each song playing off the other naturally. And, though the album covers a lot of territory -- 13 songs in 36 minutes! -- it doesn't feel scattered; scattered implies no purpose, but Mountain Battles' songs land, eventually, exactly where they need to.
Mountain Battles Review
by Heather Phares