Every decade or so, Kim Deal drops a couple of Breeders records on unsuspecting listeners, only to saunter back to her Midwest home, leaving fans wondering if they'll ever get another dose of the band's brand of lo-fi, off-kilter, groovy alt-rock again.
All Nerve, the Breeders' first record since 2008's Mountain Battles, kicks off that cycle anew with a tempting premise: All Nerve reunites the lineup that made Last Splash, certainly the band's biggest, and some would argue best, album. Kim Deal, the sole constant, is re-joined by sister Kelley, bass player Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim McPherson. And while the results don't match the highest highs of that '90s classic, they certainly live up the band's legacy of consistency in terms of quality, if not quantity.
Given the guitar-centric nature of the band and the era that birthed them, the Breeders music has always been as much about withholding sound as it was doling it out. Last Splash, and particularly "Cannonball," is more of an outlier in their catalogue. In this sense, All Nerve hues closer to the relatively underrated Title TK. The quartet reportedly began working on these tracks following 2013's Last Splash anniversary tour, and the time spent on them shows. The songs are sparse and the interplay between the players remarkable — no one instrument ever really dominates. And yet the performances retain the same raw edge that's been a hallmark of the band's studio work since day one.
While that formula works to the band's advantage early on — the opening three-song run is particularly thrilling — the slower tempos that mark the album's back half make for somewhat lopsided listening. While Last Splash differentiated itself with stylistic excursions, All Nerve remains stuck firmly in a box of the band's own making, both to their benefit (this is most definitely version of the Breeders fans know and love) and detriment (a couple songs are kind of boring).
Across her multi-decade career, Deal's other band has always taken up the lion's share of name-checks and influence. But with bands like Melkbelly, Waxahatchee and tourmates Speedy Ortiz now referencing the band in name and/or sound, the Breeders' return couldn't be better timed. Let's hope they don't disappear again too soon. (4AD)