REVIEW: Battles, Mirrored, Warp

Posted May 15th, 2007 by eric

After seeing Ian Williams play guitar with Don Caballero on the What Burns Never Returns tour, I told anyone within earshot that I wanted to have his babies. Now, I realized this did not follow the natural order of things, as we were both men. I said it in jest openly and loudly, and I probably meant it at that moment on some level or another. It was more of a hyperbolic reaction to his guitar playing, which was so completely bad ass it made my brain hurt. And the fact that he just smacked on gum, effortlessly tapping his way through various time signatures was too much to process.

When Williams resurfaced a few years later with Battles, the virtuosity was far less showy. I wasn’t sure how to take the machinated, robotic interplay on the B and C EP’s, as they only hinted at the varying degrees of genius of each member’s respective pedigree. John Stanier’s drumming has never been in question. A veteran drummer from Helmet’s cerebral original line-up on to Mike Patton’s Tomahawk, Stanier has long been revered for his robust, clockwork-like beat skills. Ian Williams, of course, earned his following deconstructing math-rock in Don Caballero and, in a less linear fashion, with Storm & Stress, while Dave Konopka flew further under the radar with Lynx- a similarly artsy, instrumental outfit. Tyondai Braxton (son of jazz legend Anthony Braxton) is the only member of the band to have earned his chops exclusively in the avant-garde scene.

Those early EP’s barely scratched the surface of what the band’s debut, Mirrored, accomplishes, as they erred on the side of face-less meandering. Looking back it seems so obvious now that amazing things were to come, given their potential and intermittent brilliance (“Tras 2”). It’s just that everything falls into place so seemingly effortlessly on Mirrored. It’s the sound of a band coming into its own. While not the easiest music to digest, it’s calculated to the point of needing a reference key, but it flows with a disarming charisma. Notes mingle and refract with split-second precision, all of it underpinned by athletic, rhythmically flawless beats. Add to that the fact that it’s also infectious and hooky and you’re faced with a maddeningly complex and contradictory record that takes seemingly awkward beats and melodies and makes them make sense.

The man versus machine line is blurred to the point of irrelevance. This is inorganic music played organically through inorganic means. The shuffling beat that opens Mirrored’s anchor single, “Atlas”, recalls Marylin Manson’s “The Beautiful People” in its notice of impeding doom. The call and response single-note blips build to a post-rock frenzy, as the group’s surprising foray into vocals is introduced. Braxton’s heavily affected, helium-like vocalizations are remarkably memorable, if somewhat detached. They sound like a chorus of Oompa Loompas, juxtaposing childish wonder with all the complex machinery at hand. It’s as brilliantly catchy as it is rhythmically alluring.

Instantly, Battles has leveraged itself against the indie rock mold. They don’t fit into a one-word genre. They are veteran players, who know exactly what they’re doing. There’s nothing DIY about this music, as not just anyone could pull off the oxymoronic mechanical swing of “Leyendecker.” Mirrored is an artistic statement above and beyond the music itself; it is performance art- a deconstruction and reconstruction of thought-provoking ideas. As much as Mirrored peers into the future, the future is now.

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