Finally the band I’ve been enthusing about for the previous year or so make it back to the city, on the back of Mirrored, one of my favourite albums of 2007 so far. I was surprised that the ambient touches from the previous EPs were replaced by a tighter, more dizzying, playful sound and doesn’t it sound delightful!
Despite the band obviously being virtuouso players with leanings toward the avant-garde, they never let their skills get in the way of a good tune. Battles are the complicated musical expression of fun, danceable rock music with a definite chin-stroking edge, leading NME to claim their oeuvre as Puzzle pop. Just the latest in NME’s excrutiating genre labelling system. I laughed particularly hard when the claimed the Knife as “the dark side of New Rave”!
When “Atlas” broke earlier in the year, most immediately notable was the pitch-shifted Daffy Duck vocal styles, signifying that Battles meant to cast off any instrumental rock group comparisons. Not to forget the immediate lunacy of the song with its unforgettable drum beat. When the album followed shortly after, it displayed the result of four very talented musicians with a wealth of ideas and the know how to make the dizzying tunes work. Listen to the start of “Leyendecker”, where you can hear Stanier’s drums ringing sound they are so high in the mix and the accompanying Braxton-led futuristic R ‘n’ B croons. It’s definitely out-there. In the proceeding video, the band talk of how confident they are in each other’s musicianship to make it work.
As expected, the show was a sell-out with queues to get in the door and mates of mates frantically trying to secure tickets. What I was most looking forward to about the live show was experiencing the band interact on stage together but I also wanted to jump around quite a bit. I definitely got my chance. It was interesting to note how much Dave Konopka, the guitarist and bass player at the back of the stage played most of the complex riffs in the songs while Braxton and Williams freestyled a bit more, sometimes playing guitar and keyboards simultaneously with one hand on each instrument. Stanier was of course, a revelation, possibly worth the admission price to watch himself. I don’t get my chin-stroke on often, but watching him slowly build up the tempo into the glam stomp of “Atlas” sent the crowd into a mosh, while “Hi Lo” was a showcase in complex rhythms and patterns that not many can match.
Hi Lo live (Amazing Drumming)
It was nice to hear some of the material off the EPs get an airing – “Hi Lo”, “Tras” and the stupendous second half of “SZ2”. Unfortunately, the sound in the Music Centre was a bit wonky as always (Hopefully this will be resolved when it closes for major renovations in July) and the slower encore song probably lost the crowd’s interest a bit and made for an anti-climatic, non-crowd pleasing ending. Overall though, it was exhilarating to watch and hear live. So much so that I may visit Tripod on the 24th of August for my second fix of Battles.
Listen to the entire album on their myspace.