Over the past 30 years, Kim Deal has carved out a sonic territory that’s all her own. It has rough edges but a tender core. It teems with echo and thumps. Most of all, it’s entirely distinctive. You know when you’re listening to Kim Deal’s music.
So it’s no surprise that All Nerve, the first new Breeders album in a decade, sounds—predictably, gloriously—like The Breeders. Along for the ride this time is the “classic” lineup that recorded the band’s revered 1993 album Last Splash. That means twin sister Kelley Deal on guitar, Josephine Wiggs on bass, Jim MacPherson on drums and Kim at the center of it all, sandpaper-voiced and effortlessly cool.
The best examples of The Breeders’ familiar garage-pop on All Nerve are songs like “Nervous Mary,” a tense and insistent rocker that opens the album on (bowling) pins and (white-hot) needles, and “Skinhead #2,” whose sparse verses nicely contrast its short-but-sweet choruses. Lead single “Wait In the Car,” a propulsive tangle of tumbledown guitars and Deal’s inscrutable poetry, contains one of the album’s best (and most relatable) lines: “Taking a nap,” she sings, “‘cause strategy’s for punks.”
Elsewhere, the skittering drums and simple riff of “Archangel’s Thunderbird” sound so much like basic Breeders elements, many will be surprised to learn the song’s a cover of Amon Düül II. “All Nerve” seems to be a long-lost cousin to Last Splash highlight “Do You Love Me Now?” in its pacing (medium), its dynamic (quiet-loud-quiet) and its lyrical themes (unrequited love that won’t take no for an answer). And Wiggs offers a nice change of pace by taking lead vocals on the seething “MetaGoth,” aka the best Pixies song anyone’s released since 1991.
All Nerve’s biggest surprise is the strength of its slowest songs. In the past, these have not been the Breeders’ strength, but “Spacewoman” is touchingly sweet as it effortlessly slips between quiet and crunchy, and “Walking With A Killer” sets an unnerving story against an arrangement that’s spacious and strange, with surf vibes and distortion sitting alongside hints of twang.
Buried near the end of All Nerve, too, is an undisputed showstopper of a song called “Dawn: Making An Effort,” which pairs shimmering post-rock with a cascading melody and, eventually, a heavenly choir of backing vocals. As for what it’s about, your guess is as good as mine. But one thing is for sure: it’s a legitimately affecting four minutes tucked in among All Nerve’s treasure trove of not-so-precious rock-tumbler gems that, a quarter century later, The Breeders still do better than anyone.