Battles - Mirrored

The playing is incredibly dense and intricate and a hundred things appear to be going on at once. I've listened to it a few times now and have yet to work out whether it is absolutely great or absolutely awful.

 

 

Battles – Mirrored (Warp)

 

Holy good gravy – what to make of this? I'll try and explain but you'll have to bear with me. Race: In, the album opener, kicks off with feverish drumming and hyperkinetic bass playing. Mutant whistling tops this off whilst other guitar parts are added to the mix. And some strange sounding keyboards. Momentarily it goes all jazzy before the drums really take over. And then all of a sudden it goes all post rock with Tortoise like percussion and guitars play over the crazy beat. And then the post rock element goes and some rather fey singing appears. And then there's a prog moment or two and we're still not three minutes into the song. The playing is incredibly dense and intricate and a hundred things appear to be going on at once. I've listened to it a few times now and have yet to work out whether it is absolutely great or absolutely awful.

 

Which is in Battles favour, I suppose. Better that than indifference. As for the group themselves they're a bunch of multi-instrumentalists with a history – the drummer used to be in Helmet, the guitarist used to play with Don Caballero and one of the other ones is the son of bloody-hard-to-listen-to jazzer Anthony Braxton. Not exactly a supergroup I grant you, but clearly one that is incredibly proficient and who know their stuff. Because this album must be an absolute bugger to play. And at times it is a bit of a bugger to listen to as well.

 

Not so with second track Atlas though. It opens with pounding drums and strange manipulated vocals. It sounds like whoever is singing is on helium. But the beat is propulsive and catchy and it sounds almost like a kind of mutant glam rock. Yes – imagine that instead of Song 2 being sent on the Beagle thing to Mars it was something by Gary Glitter. And imagine if Martians did exist and spent the next two hundred years trying to play their own version. It could conceivably sound like this. Whether this is a good thing I wouldn't like to say. But it's probably better than them blasting us with ray guns. Ddiamondd features more chipmunks style singing over handclaps and guitars and god knows what else. There's the sound of whistling and keyboards going berserk and drums bashing away in there somewhere. Tonto opens slowly, which is thoughtful, given that the preceding fifteen minutes have rushed past at breakneck speed. This one sounds a bit like post rock speeded up, but not outrageously so. The vocals, whilst indistinct, don't actually sound insane. Eventually, after a couple of guitar solos, the song slows down to post rock pace and quietly fades away.

 

Leyendecker features more ridiculous vocals – imagine an r n' b diva grunting on helium – and vaguely unsettling backing shimmers. By now you've probably got the idea. Or maybe you've got absolutely no idea and that wouldn't be at all surprising. I suppose what you've got is four people playing a mutant mixture of glam, post rock, jazz, metal and funk, usually at high speeds, and often at the same time. I'm tempted to add the old favourite expression – and yet somehow it works - but I can't; at least not with any certainty. There's certainly something impressive about the playing, and there's certainly some fun being had by the band. And the thought of Tortoise on speed does appeal. But by the time the final track Race: Out ends (fifty odd minutes after Race: In began) you feel as though you've been given a bit of an aural kicking. There's certainly fun to be had, but it's probably best taken in small doses.

 

Words: Chris Dawson