All Nerve (4AD)
by Scott Deckman
Talk about a grower. I initially dismissed this record as not very good, but as is often the case with solid music, the unconscious mind has a lot to do with whether you eventually side with it or not. I’m talking about bits of a song running through your head for no apparent reason while lying in bed, the sound so gauzy you don’t remember if it was day or night, you just know from where it came. This is the story of the Breeders‘ All Nerve.
As to the aforementioned song, I think it was “Dawn: Making an Effort.” Its ethereal chords and Kim’s unmatchable voice dialing in the dream, a companion to “Mountain Battles,” the eponymous number from the band’s last one. While “Mountain Battles” talks of rehab, the newer one seems to be signaling the effort to keep the rebuild – or life – going on black letter days we all suffer through. Sometimes it does take effort to get out of bed.
Kim and Kelley Deal make difficult music these days, maybe intentionally, maybe not. As her former band seems to be getting its footing under them (the Pixies’ Head Carrier was an improvement over Indie Cindy), they do so relying on more conventional songwriting than esoteric trills of the past. Kim, she just keeps getting weirder and weirder. The music business has changed so much from the alt-rock boom of the ’90s (never mind the halcyon days of the ’70s and ’80s): No one makes money off records anymore, unless you’re a global shit brand pop sensation whose job it is to move the needle. And when you’re pushing 60 and people can listen for free, another strike. So you do your own thing. And really, some like “Cannonball” and some like “Skinhead #2.” And the two can shake hands and call it even.
The Deal guitar tone she’s always had is still here, both in the lower and higher notes. “Wait in the Car,” “All Nerve” and “MetaGoth,” sung by bassist Josephine Wiggs (this is the reunion of the cast of characters who made the classic Last Splash), all have the slow-grind picking the band favors, the latter as dark as an inky night in the woods, the former the album’s first single. And after a while, “Wait in the Car,” with its chorus of “Sinner I,” is quite catchy, sounding a bit like 2002 Breeders, propelled by that grind, but at a faster clip.
As always, opaque lyrics abound, whether it’s Wiggs’ sinister chanting of “90 … million … miles,” Kim’s “Madrid in my nose/Black lung in my hand/West. By God, Virginia in my head” on opener “Nervous Mary,” or, well, it’s a Kim Deal record, pick nearly any song.
Single “Spacewoman” really does sound spacey with the weird noise employed in the background. The beach ball in the stadium, let alone the home runs and line drives, don’t gel with the celestial, but that’s her. Kim is postmodern and makes it work. Don’t try this at home.
“Walking with a Killer” is the immediate standout, Kim’s first-person narration of a doomed woman walking with her killer “through the cornfields of East 35,” the languid, shuffling pace juxtaposing the existential threat. After midpoint, the guitars get fuzzier and, through it all, the song manages to sound vaguely tropical, that Breeders Last Smash lineage. Unnerving, to say the least. “Howl at the Summit,” with loud drums, clear voice, and cinematic guitar, is a triumph of something, while “Blues at the Acropolis” laments (muses at?) the “junkies of the world” and “drunks” defacing a historical treasure with their doped-out presence and bodily fluids.
This is tough sledding at first – like much good and great music – but it’s interesting and at times, very good. All Nerve is an insular album, like everything the band has put out since 2002’s very strong Title TK, inviting much interpretation. Kim is a strange one, that big smile hiding so much, but she invites you into her personal space if you’re intrepid enough to go through the process of exegesis.