Friday, June 15, 2007

Mirrored by Battles

Apparently, Battles released two EPs in 2004, which their label, Warp, then re-released as a double disc set in '05. Apparently, these discs sent a substantial ripple through the music world, a world hungry for experimental rock and roll, notwithstanding occasional visits by Tool and TV on the Radio (although even Tool seem fairly mainstream these days, don't they?). Apparently, these guys were going to make the musical equivalent of a big middle finger to the establishment which claims rock stopped moving forward in 1967 by producing a gargantuan masterpiece.

Apparently, it's all true.

In Mirrored, Battles have produced one of those records that feels like it's about 20 years ahead of its time, as much at home among live instrumentation as with highly processed vocals, looped guitar and drum circling around each other and multilayered production. Even the cover art is reminiscent of what one's notion of a futuristic recording studio may look like.

Opening single 'Atlas', while utterly brilliant, a seven minute club stomper built around a metal rhythm section and twisted and every concievable musical affectation layered on top of it, isn't necessarily the best thing here. In fact, it's hard to view this record as more than a single recording, so seamlessly and languidly does one movement shift into another, breaks in the thrilling noise only thrown in as a submissive bow to modern rock conventions (none of any others, by the way, Battles saw fit to adhere to).

Bookends, 'Race: In' and 'Race: Out' are fitting opener and closer respectively, the latter opening in a grpahic dirge, then slowly shifting into an alternate universe version of it's sister at the beginning, while 'Race: In' shuffles in over urgent, chase-scene drumming before exploding at the midpoint.

In between are a series of thrilling adventures into sonic experimentalism that often conspire to leave the listener open-mouthed at the sheer audacity of the ideas being thrown out at every turn. However, despite all this pretense to high-art math-rock, at no point does Mirrored cease to be anything but highly accessible (in fact, don't be surprised if you hear 'Atlas' at the local nightspot sometime this year): at no point do Battles forget that the audience is listening.

Pity the band that sets out to make the veritable PhD of rock music, to make something that has never been done, as it almost always ends in failure. But when it works, as it has here, it just struggles to get any better.

4 1/2 stars

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