The Jakarta Post
‘All Nerve’ by The Breeders (The Breeders/File)
On their first official album after 18 years, American rock band The Breeders make a strong, confident return.
Recorded with the reunited lineup that made 1993’s alternative hit Last Splash, the band’s fifth official full-length album brims with clarity in the form of immediate melodies and lyrics that are even more emotionally captivating than usual.
Lead singer, guitarist and main songwriter Kim Deal makes her point clearly even when the words are still delivered with colorful metaphors and imageries, while the concise arrangements give her melodies more lucidity than they have had in a while.
To call it their best record is to risk self-ridicule in the future (nostalgia makes Last Splash and Pod, the 1990 debut hard to deny). But right now, All Nervefeels at least like The Breeders’ most effortless and efficient. The 25 years since this lineup last played together does not result in awkward rustiness, but instead obvious maturity in the mastery of the placing of their instruments within songs.
Second guitarist and occasional vocalist Kelley Deal (identical twin sister of Kim), drummer Jim Macpherson and bassist Josephine Wiggs conjure up noise from their instruments that range from the straightforward to noisy and textural, wrapping the songs with captivating dynamics around Kim Deal’s melodies and characteristic high, dreamy vocals.
It is thus a snappy record with no weak tracks (though some of the last few songs are not as strong as the openers). A front to back alterna-rager with a good dose of emotionality, even when it seems to come in different forms.
Stand-out “Metagoth” is melancholy in the shape of jagged pop, with almost-spoken vocals shimmering throughout alongside mood-setting feedbacks and moody guitar lines, while the single “Wait in the Car” opens with Kim Deal exclaiming “good morning!” before opening the drapes for some descending guitar crunches atop her bellowing of “oohs” and some “meow meow”.
Stop-and-go rhythms keep things on its toes without losing the song’s forward motion, with sections that blend into one another unpredictably but never at the expense of catchiness. At just three seconds over its two minutes, “Car” finishes its rock’n’roll business snappily, in a very Breeders way.
Similarly, the slower lurch of the title track and the almost-danceable circular rhythms of “Archangel’s Thunderbird” open itself to some experimental moments without sacrificing overall compactness. The latter track moves into a dissonant guitar breakdown in its middle and later ends with a noisier freak out.
The moody prettiness of “Walking With a Killer” and dreamy hovering of “Dawn -- Making an Effort” offer the most obvious variations. “Dawn” is almost orchestral in the way the introductory echoing guitars shift onto the dramatic rumble of the drums and shoegazing guitar lines ascending in a faraway-yet-visible background.
The confessional nature of some of the lyrics work nicely against these textures. “I wanna see you/ Especially you/ You don’t know how much I miss you/ Ha, ha. I may be high, I may hide and run out at you”, sings Kim Deal with unabashed honesty in the title track, which sense of lonesomeness she echoes in “Spacewoman”, singing “Spacewoman/ How lonely does it feel?/ You’re spinning round and round/ I look up/ I’m down here, rolling around too”.
Even at its less-direct, Kim Deal’s words this time around still pervades with sensitivity and self-reflection. “Consider I/ Always struggle with the right word/ Meow meow meow meow meow/ As a sinner I unlock/ Nothing but need”, she observes in “Wait in the Car”, while “Howl at the Summit” sees her doing just that and coming to the realization that “You may have spirit but I’ll never hear it/ You jump off but can you clear it”. They feel filled with empathy without being dredged in sentimentality.
Powerfully direct without losing the band’s characteristic balance of weight and pesky playfulness, The Breeders may have made this a low-key comeback without the dulling spectacle of some other recent alterna-rock reunions, but fans who give it a chance will agree that All Nerve shows that very often, the music speaks for itself.