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Battles - Mirrored

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Artist: Battles

Album: Mirrored

Label: Warp

Review date: May. 21, 2007

In the summer of 2004, Battles had just wrapped up their alphabetically-monikered EP trilogy; it was around that time that I reviewed the final entry for Dusted. I’d already given the first two installments positive coverage in another publication, so I considered myself something of a supporter. And I still do.

On their latest recording (and full-length debut), Mirrored, Battles continue to exude musical discipline. But they’ve expanded their wardrobe beyond martial grooves and math-y arrangements, creating an air of contention among fans who prefer the cooly combatative sound of the EPs. Here, heavily-processed vocals and electro tomfoolery lighten the mood considerably. Yet Battles haven’t totally abandoned their chops-heavy manifesto. In fact, Mirrored is easily the most instrumentally intensive album I’ve heard this year.

Many are already familiar with members’ individual CVs, so I’ll make it quick: drummer John Stanier once manned the kit for Helmet. He now pulls double-duty with Mike Patton’s Tomahawk. Tyondai Braxton comes from avant-jazz stock (his dad is Anthony Braxton), but made his name through electro-organic tweakery. Guitarists Ian Willams and Dave Konopka played with Don Caballero and Lynx, respectively. Got it? Good, let’s move on.

It’s always been tough to tell whether Battles wants to be a visceral rock band or a Steve Reich/Terry Riley-style conceptual unit. With Mirrored, the distinction is even less clear. These days, the band rely less on muscle and more on cartoonish juxtapositions that are as jarring as picturing Robert Fripp in a hot pink tracksuit.

Fans might not be ready for Braxton’s munchkin vocals on “Atlas,” or the cascading, major-key riffery of “Ddiamondd,” which also features fat synth bass and handclaps. A hesher’s first impression might be that his/her fave intelli-metal band has gone soft. Hesher needs new headphones, ’cause Mirrored is as punishing as anything Battles has previously recorded..

Whether Battles come across as a grad school Mars Volta or Important Avant-Aesthetes depends as much on personal bias as it does the band’s artistic conceits. There’s nothing here that’ll shock experimental music acolytes, but it might be a bit much for those expecting only brawny post-rock. Like Goldilocks, I find it just right.

At the end of the day, an album has to stand on its own merits, regardless of genre classification or audience expectation. For the most part Mirrored does just that. At the very least, it opens a whole new dimension for Battles, one which might be more effectively explored later. That’s cool with me – I’m with ’em for the long haul.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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