Ian Williams, a former member of Don Caballero, has teamed up with a new otherworldly drummer (Helmet’s John Stainer), and an equally challenging guitarist (Lynx’s David Konopka) to form Battles. But rather than settle on their already established math rock expertise, the members are joined by experimental composer/avant-garde musician Tyondai Braxton, bringing the overall sound closer to progressive rock.
Which means that Battles’ first full-length, Mirrored, will please the King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator set as much as it does fans (like me) of Don Caballero. And it will probably garnish respect from any listener who appreciates complex rhythms, looping guitar patterns, and a penchant for full-on musician geekdom. [And annoy the hell out of anyone expecting conventional song structure, accessible hooks, or general tunefulness – ed.]
Most of the album’ eleven tracks carry similar strategies, yet manage to sound completely fresh after the previous track has faded out or ended cold.
Opener “Race In” sets the mood for the rest of the album: start with a few tangled rhythmic drum and guitar blueprints, add another guitar phrase that’s completely unrelated to the first one, mix in a few tweaked keyboards, and then bring the whole thing together into cohesion.
By the second track, Battles begin to add processed vocals into the arrangement which recall the same kind of strategies that such left-field artists like Frank Zappa or Butthole Surfers implemented on some of their most sonically challenging endeavors.
Another technique found throughout Mirrored is when the band starts picking apart each arrangement immediately after building the song up. This deconstruction can prove to be just as fascinating as the obligatory build up of each song. In fact: you start to hear the complexities that you may have missed during the initial rush while wondering “How the fuck are they going to put this shit together?”
Once the shit is put together, you’re left in a salivating state of worship of air drumming, devil horns, and head-nodding. Although frequently mechanical, Mirrored also manages to provide enough humanity within the interplay to move the ass of any gearhead.
Which all manages to make Battles add up to more than the math rock exercises that you’d expect from an instrumental outfit built upon such worthy lineage. Mirrored is a stunning document of four talented and clever musicians who seem hellbent on challenging themselves and making one of the year’s finest records in the process.
Battles – “Atlas”
Introduction to Battles