Review Summary: the splash before last..
Hindsight’s been kind to Kim Deal’s legacy. By the time the Pixies first imploded in 1993, indie had become a radio stronghold, and she was no longer the bassist of a scrappy cult band, but a part of something that has become far bigger than the sum of its parts. The Breeders’ Last Splash
, released that same year, was able to reap the benefits of all she had helped build, going platinum and solidifying her place in the genre’s ‘casual’ pantheon. Her playing such a critical role in one of underground’s most important bands, one that would go on to seep its way into the work of countless radio giants to come, means that there’s nary a dialogue about Deal that doesn’t involve a Pixies or Black Francis mention, and this review is obviously no different. It still takes less than three entries in pretty well any comment section of a Pixies show post-2013 before her name is summoned. A part of that of course is that the Breeders never really managed to eclipse or usurp the Pixies quality-wise (at least back then).
It’s been close to a decade now since the Breeders last put out new material, and unlike 2008’s Mountain Battles
, which came at the peak of indie revivalism, All Nerve
arrives into a whole different fold, both radio music and the DIY niche seemingly further away from guitars that they’ve ever been. Edging back in a band that still sticks to the four-piece rock formation, with only a few keys to round off some songs, to any kind of relevance was always going to be a rough go, cult member status or not.
The strongholds of All Nerve
lie in that it manages to preserve the Breeders’ sound, in ways that don’t feel forced or phoned-in, that hyper-sensuous mild fuzz sliced up with smooth surf guitars is fully intact across the LP’s run. And Deal’s voice is in top form, still that odd and endlessly pleasing twist of rock and 90’s RnB. She guides the record with the same precocious, slightly elbowy confidence that had once made her a vixen of the scene.
The album’s bug is that its consistency isn’t anchored by anything that truly soars from the ground. Albini’s mixing can do little for a collection of songs that rarely climb out of mid-tempo, aside from lending more clarity to what was already pretty clear to begin with; and his name seems to figure as little more than endorsement for the record, much like the barely distinguishable Courtney Barnett backing vox cameo on “Howl at the Summit.” What’s more is that nearly two-thirds of All Nerve
’s songs end on an abrupt irresolute stop, a stylistic quirk that in the right moment, can really set off a tune, teasing and frustrating the listener and ultimately making him return to the song. But when it happens to three cuts in a row, like the album’s opening salvo, it starts to feel more like a cloaking device for something that just has nowhere to go. Still, it makes the songs that do follow through to a fade-out resolve, like the playfully rambunctious “Archangel’s Thunderbird” or the honeyed chug of “MetaGoth” all the more complete.
In the end, All Nerve
is not an inherently weak record, nor does it feel nearly as limp or self-parodying as most reunion efforts that have come forth from the indie behemoths of old in recent years. Deal’s songwriting and modus are so polished and established by now, that there are enough natural fail-safes here to prevent any glaring gaff. But like so many of these homecomings, at its boldest, highest point, the most it musters is making you want to go back to the band’s heyday.