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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Battles: EP C / B EP

BATTLES: EP C / B EP (2006)

1) B + T; 2) UW; 3) HI/LO; 4) IPT-2; 5) TRAS 2; 6) SZ2; 7) TRAS 3; 8) IPT 2; 9) BTTLS; 10) DANCE.

First of all, the track listing you see is incorrect in relation to the album EP C / B EP that Battles released in 2006. That album was indeed a combination of their two earlier EPs, to each of which they, however, appended one new track ('FANTASY' and 'TRAS' respectively). The order was also reversed: on the album EP C / B EP it is B EP that comes first and EP C comes next, which is sort of like the order you'd expect them to follow, but originally, in 2004, it was EP C that was released first and B EP followed it a few months later. For the record, there never was an A EP or EP A, either. Now that everything is as transparent and lucid as the Poincaré conjecture, let us speak freely of these geniuses of math-rock.

Ever since Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew crossed their guitars in the early 1980s, there have been plenty of followers trying to paint comparable musical polygons in the air, but few succeed, since, without an emotional interpretation, a musical polygon is nothing but firm proof of the fact that a bunch of pretentious and stubborn shitheads have indeed wasted a few dozen kilohours of their time learning to play that way (when they could have spent that same time in a far more use­ful manner — say, cleaning up the latest oil spill with a bucket and a shovel).

But these guys, a quasi-supergroup that unites people from math rock band Don Caballero and alt-metal band Helmet with the son of Anthony Braxton, truly have what it takes. The sound­scapes they create are weird, but not pointless, and complex, but not inacessible. Most important­ly, it has all the magic of trance without being trance — too slow, too sparse, too guitar-depen­dent, and way too technical, of course. Yet, once you get in their groove, the hypnosis starts wor­king, and the chakras start opening.

The sound is much more «sci-fi», with a touch of «industrial», than «psychedelic» — which is quite natural if the music completely lacks the element of free improvisation, governed by succes­sive amassment of layers of loops that, however, never mesh in a kaleidoscopic manner, but stric­tly whirl around on their own like a set of cogs. But the more it turns, the more you may get to feel yourself caught up in those cogs and turning along with them, clinging, against your will, to one of the instruments. There is something nasty and humiliating about that approach, perhaps, but we'll just assume it's all in good fun.

Some of the tracks are short one-minute links — raw ideas, perhaps, that never got the luck of being tested further — but the emphasis is on the long, drawn out compositions. 'B + T' and 'HI / LO' are so mesmerizing that it doesn't really matter they have more or less the same tempo and mood; 'TRAS 2' is the album's «fast rocker» that allows you to switch gears while sleepwalking; and I even think that 'BTTLS', the record's most vilified track, does the «imagine yourself trapped in the control room of a futuristic space station, listening to all the panels and engines» far more efficiently than anything on those early Kraftwerk albums. Not that it really needs to break the twelve minute mark, but there is something creepy about those sound effects — you almost keep waiting for something to blow up at any moment. (Alas, it never does, although it does get louder towards the end).

The big secret behind all this is that their loops have actual resonance, and their combinations have even more of it — they're speaking to each other, like the «low voice» of 'HI/LO's synthe­sized bass against the «high voice» of the whining chimes above it. They threaten, complain, or just mindlessly chirp about like a set of electronic birds; «math-rock» this may be, but it is as good as any a justification of the idea that mathematics and soulfulness are not mutually exclu­sive. It is, perhaps, too bad that, unlike King Crimson, Battles do not transform any of those nice sounds into actual songs — they might reach a far bigger audience that way — but, on the other hand, if it works, it works, so let's not even breathe on it. Thumbs up at a crossroads where the interests of the brain and the heart intersect with each other.


  1. Have you heard their full album from 2007, "Mirrored"? I think it's a great piece of work!

    Greetings from a faithful reader ;)

  2. I am totally indifferent to this record. Some of the sound effects are cool, but nothing really rewarding here.

    On an additional unrelated note: Nine Inch Nails' "Beside You in Time", with its repetitive pattern that began barely audible, has the most suspenseful a-bang-might-come-out-so-keep-the-volume-down I have ever experienced.