Battles – Mirrored

Battles - MirroredBattlesMirrored (Warp)

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

7 thoughts on “Battles – Mirrored”

  1. No offense, Todd, this is a good review, but I absolutely cannot tolerate this band. I hear one of their songs on Sirius’ Left of Center all the time, and I tried listening to the album a few times through, and the only reaction my body can ever muster is to put on something else. I mean, I work in NYC. If I wanted to hear random noise, I’d go stand on my street corner.

  2. I’m with you, Tom. What little I’ve heard of this band has made me want to gouge my ears out with a grapefruit spoon.

  3. No offense taken, especially from a pair of limp wrested Weezer loving, grapefruit spoon owning, sissy boys like y’all. I’d expect similar rants from my wife, who also doesn’t get Rush, my love of Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play, and why Master Of Puppets is a better album than The Black Album. Battles is for real men, the kind that get boners when they walk into the Guitar Center and, therefore, may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

    But seriously, Don Caballero’s American Don was one of my favorite albums in 2000 and this (finally) seems like a worthy successor to that landmark. Full disclosure: I also enjoy excessive noodling from jam-bands and progressive rock tendencies when performed by hipsters that should feel obligated to explain why they have said progressive rock tendencies.

    While your mileage may vary with Mirrored, I’ve got to believe that your love for it may be paramount to how long your hair was back in high school/college during your obligatory freak flag phase. Mine reached the small of my back, so I’m obligated to thoroughly enjoy the spastic qualities of this fine el-pee.

    Now why don’t you two go play Maladroit and make out with each other?


  4. Fuck me: I just watched that video and the fact that Stainer’s crash cymbal is four feet off the kit is so badassed. If you feel the same way about that, there’s a good chance you may like Mirrored.

  5. I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said more eloquently in a kajillion hipster-type reviews, but I really like this album.

    It’s like the merging of my favourite parts of the aforementioned King Crimson with the surprising little sonic flourishes of Animal Collective.

  6. I think this stuff is sick. Completely experimental yet completely pleasing to the ear, as long as you can break your expectations of what is a song. What I mean is it’s not jarring or boring or scrapey or noisy. The melody is just present enough, and the rhythm just strong enough. It’s the logical place to go for fans of prog-rock, post-rock, and experimental rock.

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