Battles (4.4.07)

Posted on July 28, 2008


Four play

I had my doubts. I’ve listened to a lot of Battles before (they’ve been baiting fans with EPs released on obscure indie labels for quite a while now), and it didn’t seem like there was an hour’s worth of music in them. Their songs were great mixes of tense, sparse beats and layered bits of melodies that compounded until you couldn’t tell which notes belonged to which melodies—but it all seemed to be just the same idea from slightly different angles.

But this new Battles album, Mirrored—this is different. Says singer (yes, now there are vocals!)/guitarist/electronics guru Tyondai Braxton, “We left all the doors open as to what could happen once we got to the studio. We never really knew what we were going to have until we had it.”

This thing is manic. Unlike the three previous EPs, there’s no sense of the songs being written right before your eyes. Listening to the band’s past output was like visiting the set of Star Wars while they’re creating the stop-motion space dogfight scenes one frame at a time. The new album is like watching the finished product on a huge screen, with lasers and impossible explosions added in all over the place.

For a moment, take local pride in the fact that David Konopka, veteran of the defunct math-rock group Lynx and child of the same breezy Cape Cod generation that sprouted Boston luminaries like imageHelms and Dagobah [sigh … —Ed.], has found his way into this tangle of unassailable indie cred. Konopka joins Braxton, who some of you may have seen playing with Neptune at Charlie’s Kitchen or Polaris Mine at Great Scott, sitting onstage all alone surrounded by cables and effects pedals. Battles is rounded out by the guitar/laptop wizardry of Don Caballero’s Ian Williams and the android beats of Helmet’s John Stanier.

Of course, it’s not the name-brand recognition that matters—it’s that these guys have actually taken the time to adapt to each other’s individual knacks. Braxton describes the process over the phone: “This record is basically the direct result of getting these four people together. If anyone were replaced, not a single part of the album would sound the same.”

And really, nothing on Mirrored seems like it’s coming from any particular place; Battles’ music never broods, never regrets, never loves, never gets pissed off. It sounds like a pure celebration of process—or a space-age version of latter-day Boredoms.

“When you look at everyone’s past, you see that we’re all comfortable with trying to integrate electronics and acoustic instruments, so it doesn’t need to come from any plan or specific idea of how things should sound. It’s just what happens.”

[Originally Appeared in Boston’s Weekly Dig April 4, 2007]