Battles - Mirrored
Holly Cruise 21/05/2007
First things first, check out the record label. Their idea of a chillout group is not some insipid sub-Zero 7 dreck, but Board Of Canada's sinister beauty. Their idea of a male singer songwriter is not the face melting horror of James Morrison, but the off kilter genius of Jamie Lidell. Their movie star vanity projects are Vincent Gallo's, and their trendy punk-funk is the un-Googleable !!!, and just when you think you've got a handle on the madness they serve up Maximo Park's 3 minute pop songs at which point you simply raise both hands and surrender to Warp.
Fitting then that their post-rock, math-rock, indie-jazz, whatever, signings are not some obtuse head scratchers, or irritatingly pretentious and impenetrable gits, but Battles. The math-rock it's possible to listen to at the gym and not die tangled in the machinery, confused look on face.
With the press in Britain taking a momentary rest from worshipping whatever's trendy this week to listen to and gush over Battles, there are going to be a lot of people for whom Mirrored is their first encounter with the band. In this case the band have managed to come up with probably the best possible running order they could have for the album. They have essentially put the four poppiest bits of the album in the first five tracks. Not that we're talking pop as in big singalong choruses; most of the lyrics on the album are hard to make out. Buried under effects, or not even bothering with words, that's not the point. The frantic falsetto of 'Ddiamondd' and the humming on 'Leyendecker' are up there with Sigur Ros's finest moments for engaging but unintelligible vocals.
It's all rather socialist. This is a band who sound determined that no instrument (including vocals) takes precedent over any other. It's about finding the correct way to express whichever melody or mood they've set themselves the challenge of putting across. And i that sounds painfully scientific then it never sounds like it in the songs. 'Bad Tails' swooshes like a rainforest. 'Tonto' is propelled along on what seems to be the best bass riff of the year so far, although it is possibly the only track where a little judicious pruning (i.e. the last 90 seconds of this seven minute groove) would have benefited it. From a band willing to repeatedly stray over the five, seven, eight minute mark, this is an impressive result in itself. But it's not an album likely to bore the listener. Something new is always waiting to happen in the next few beats. They can even reprise themselves, final track 'Race: Out' is a more brooding, urgent take on the cheery 'Race: In' which opens proceedings.
It might seem odd that such a band have bothered with a single, but 'Atlas' is the perfect single. It lets you know exactly what to expect about the album. Again, seven minutes long, but completely perfect, it is driven along by a furiously determined beat and a vocal you can almost sing along to. It's honest. This album rests above all on some absolutely brilliant percussion, John Stanier, ex of Helmet, is phenomenal over the entire album, alternately inventive and solid. There are no drum solos to speak of, but you are left certain that he is one of the best in music today. It helps with the gym workouts, as well as the overall enjoyment of the music.
It's unlikely to get big sales, but as a completely unexpected bolt from the leftfield it has more than enough potential to crop up on a few end-of-year lists, or even to send a few of its tracks to the dancefloor ('Atlas', 'Ddiamondd') to confuse the hell out of people. But then again, look at what Warp has already sent to the dancefloor. What were you expecting?