Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Math Rock pt. Three: Battles' 21st Century Virtuosity

Battles is somewhat of a “supergroup,” with its members coming from other well-established bands and backgrounds.  They showed up on my Amazon recommendations when I began to show interest in Don Caballero.  Although their 2004 releases EP B and C EP were both separately recommended, I didn’t really take an interest until I saw the official “Atlas” video in 2007.  At the time, this tune was everywhere (even as a background song in the PS3 game “Little Big Planet”) and judging by its DJ-ish sound, I assumed that Battles was primarily a studio project.

As I became more familiar with Battles, though, the math rock pedigree of the musicians opened up a different mode of technical and structural listening.  I realized that there if they were doing what I thought that they were doing, it would be even more impressive than if they had constructed their work in the studio

Well, they were doing what I thought they were doing.   Don't blink....

These guys are not only skilled musicians and brilliant conceptualists, but they also have a unique 21st century virtuosity that transcends and includes multi-instrumentalism.  The way that they use technology in a live setting makes it difficult to tell where their technique ends and the tech begins.  For example, Ian Williams is noticeably more proficient with his loops than he was on “American Don,” and he also expands those layers beyond just his guitar into keyboards and samples.  Williams is just one of the four musicians in Battles, and each one is similarly and uniquely virtuosic.  Listening within this framework, “Mirrored” shot up my personal charts, and was probably one of the top albums of 2008.

As an aside, I took an interest in the band exactly one week after they played down the street at Rubber Gloves in Denton.  Let's hear it for stubbornness one more time.... 

Last week, I finally ordered the “EP B/C EP” package, which combines the two EPs that were released before “Mirrored.”  Another fan once told me that they liked these releases better than “Mirrored” and while “EP B/C EP” is still simmering for me, I can certainly say that it does not disappoint in the least.  It has actually reinvigorated by interest in Battles.  There are fewer vocals and perhaps a bit more soundscaping, so it comes off a little more avant-garde than “Mirrored.”  It is, however, still precise and intense enough to satisfy my expectations.  There are lots of videos of them playing this material live, most of it in low-fidelity on phone cams.  

Now, this is the exciting part - it seems that “Gloss Drop,” Battles’ follow-up to “Mirrored,” is scheduled to be released this summer.  This is cause for joy, but there is a catch.  Lead singer/weird voice guy Tyondai Braxton left Battles to pursue his solo career (which looks really interesting – he’s on the list).  This is definitely an album I am looking forward to, but I will admit that I have a little apprehension over losing him.  We'll see....

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