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Battles - EP C

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Artist: Battles

Album: EP C

Label: Monitor

Review date: Jul. 1, 2004

The neo-prog movement has had a rough couple of years. The break up (or hiatus, as it’s delicately phrased) of genre stalwarts Don Caballero and relative newcomers The Cancer Conspiracy took some wind out of the scene's sails, and the indie scene at large moved rapidly forward to other flavors and fads. So far, the new millennium has found much of the modern progressive school's dare-to-dream iconoclasm traded in for musical posturing and sophomoric lyrical ambiguity. Hey, whatever it takes to sell albums right?

Ian Williams, known for his centrifugal guitar assemblages in Don Cab, has chosen to stay the course, and pick up, for the most part, where his old group had left off. An admirable decision, as Battles' EP C remains challenging and highly listenable for the entirety of its brief runtime. At this stage, Battles are a bit more melodic than Don Caballero left off on American Don. The interlocking polyrhythms provided by Williams’ new bandmates (and fellow guitarists) Dave Konopka and Tyondai Braxton seem less antagonistic; scripted chaos has given way to a reverence for disciplined order.

Battles’ overall methodology remains largely similar to their predecessors, however. The overall recipe is not dissimilar to King Crimson’s old puzzle Discipline: twist shifting patterns ala Steve Reich or Phillip Glass across a bedrock of a pulse. Rinse. Repeat.

Anchored to the relentless and primal drumming of John Stanier (ex-Helmet/current Tomahawk), the guitarists’ orchestrated patterns have a chance to truly blossom into grand design, spiraling slowly from the center into the sonic equivalent of fractal latticework. Stanier, for all of his cro-magnon Bonham-isms, seems a great fit for Williams’ compositions. Never does he forgo the steady, locked-down beats for unnecessarily complicated time changes or spasmodic fills. He instead propels the pieces with a locomotive engine’s singularity of purpose: steady as she goes, until the end of the line.

Each of EP C's 5 tracks (named abstrusely, in grand prog tradition) are nicely embellished with slight keyboard blips and occasional digital glitches, bringing the progressive bedrock of the late '90’s up to speed with today’s aesthetics, without ever sounding like a band pandering to convention. The focus is firmly on the players here, which is where it should be. Meandering is kept to a minimum, as terse, hypnotic cycles of melody and rhythm unfold and collapse upon themselves.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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