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The Breeders All Nerve 4AD

The Breeders have been a shape-shifting pillar of underrated alternative rock since the early 90s. Conceived by Kim Deal while touring with the Pixies – and at the time also including Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly – the band’s second album Last Splash achieved crossover success, in part thanks to their 1993 hit single Cannonball. But in 1995 Kim’s bandmate and twin sister Kelley was admitted to rehab, and The Breeders subsequently went on hiatus.

When The Breeders eventually returned with a different line-up for 2002’s Title TK album, Kim’s deft songwriting style and talent for a droll melancholy was given space and resonance. The formula of sideways, screeching pop, muted guitar distortion and vocals buried in effects that so defined The Breeders’ college rock days gave way to the scaled-back harmonies supported by engineer Steve Albini’s famously hands-off process. By 2008’s Mountain Battles, the band’s embrace of elemental, dancefloor rhythms made it clear that their fraught history of years-delayed releases was small but impeccable.

Reunited for the 20th anniversary of Last Splash five years ago, All Nerve sees the original cast of that iconic album establish The Breeders as a project of a quality comparable to PJ Harvey’s always developing, ever-evolving oeuvre – only at a fraction of the output. A theremin opening leads into the heavy breathing and cracked vocal of opener Nervous Mary, while Josephine Wiggs’ British accent delivers spoken word poetry carried on an insistent storm of bass and scratchy guitar pitches for MetaGoth. Meanwhile, Dawn: Making an Effort is perhaps the subtle standout, and part of the unsung aspect of The Breeders’ key strength. “Bursting flowers/ one wild sprawl/ untethered.” It’s one where a mournful instrumental arrangement acts as a vast cushion for the raw and stripped back words of a world-worn life of loss and regret.