BATTLES: Mirrored (Warp Records)
Warp Records 2007
11 Tracks. 51mins52secs
Buy it: CD | LP
Battles | Warp Records
The problem with such a stellar live act as Battles is that, whether they try to capture the energy of their performances or polish their music in such a way that it becomes a completely different entity, they are likely to ultimately disappoint. Battles are certainly in such predicament. Hailed as one of the best contemporary live acts around, the band’s fist three EPs, released between 2004 and 2006, never really sought to showcase their stage performances, yet they clearly informed the relationship between the four musicians, and consequently cemented the music. But Battles were still to demonstrate their ability to carry this onto a full length, which is now done with this debut album.
Labels don’t serve Battles well. The one that seem to have been created for them especially, ‘math rock’, being the most incongruous of all. As the quartet effortlessly dispatch mind-bending pieces one after the other, debris of rock, jazz, funk, metal and electro fly by without ever sticking up for long, clearly indicating that the point of the band is somewhat well beyond pigeonholes.
Nothing is quite as visceral and essential as the anthemic tribalism of first single Atlas. With John Stanier’s flamboyant drumming firmly at the centre of the piece, echoing the band’s traditional stage formation, the rest of the band massage acerbic guitar sections, rumbling bass lines and twisted electronics into a relentless groove, with reluctant front man Tyondai Braxton adding filtered vocals, at times reminiscent of early Animal Collective, over it all. Over the course of the track’s seven minutes, Battles fast-forward, slow down, pause, rewind and start all over again to create a true classic. In comparison, the incendiary Ddiamondd is abrasive and arrogant, as if the band had spontaneously combusted and were rushing to get through the track before going up in smoke.
The next three tracks are more subtle and show some restraint, starting with the surprisingly level headed Tonto, a magnificent slice of sturdy modern rock with enough balls to withstand a drastic change of pace in its second half without showing any sign of losing focus. Next, the short and sweet Leyedecker is refreshingly tuneful and damn catchy. This is the calm before the many stormy circumvolutions of Rainbow, an ambitious tale of avant-rock on which the quartet change direction almost constantly, juggling melodies and fiery arrangements with disconcerting ease. The piece concludes in somewhat subdued fashion as the band reach an atmospheric shore on which Braxton’s vocals resound with impressive magnitude.
On tracks such as the engaging opening Race: In, or the dramatic Tij, the band establish a clear groove from the outset and pretty much stick to its incandescent driving force all the way through. The album concludes with the brooding Race: Out, with Stanier originally forcing rumbling drums onto the scope before Ian Williams and David Konopka begin an exchange of phrases from their respective sides.
Battles is like an ego war in reverse. While each member contributes essential components to the overall sound, the sum of their collaboration is greater than any single intervention, which pushes the focus solely on the music. This is a state of affair with Battles live, and it is on this record too. Although Mirrored might surprise and disconcert, its impeccable cohesion and visionary perspectives reveal a band at ease with its experimentations and willing to push ahead.