Saturday 19 October 2019

New York nuances strike a giddy but compelling chord

The baffling, beautiful music of Battles is hard to deconstruct, but easy to love.

Lacing odd-ball jazz-rock with a giddy pop zing, the New York quartet veer between high-seriousness and camp playfulness. It's as if they are trying to confound and delight the listener in the same heartbeat.

Clearly, they've struck upon a golden formula. Released several months ago on an obscure indie label, debut album 'Mirrored' threatens to become a break-out hit, basking in ecstatic word-of-mouth, buzz and rave blogger write-ups.

Face to face, Battles are every bit as complex and contradictory as they sound on record. Sweaty and shirtless, drummer John Stanier used to pound the pig-skins in '90s metal group Helmet.

At his shoulder, afro-wearing keyboardist/ guitarist Tyondai Braxton is a picture of beatnik insouciance. Shuffling in the background are Battles' engine room: the uber-nerd duo, Dave Konopka (rhythm guitar) and Ian Williams (bass).

Twitchy and obtuse, their music isn't easy to dance to. However, that doesn't stop a packed TriPod trying its hardest -- across the room people jerk limbs and bob heads in scenes of maniacal devotion.

Sonically, Battles are riven between the desire to gnaw at the boundaries of art-rock and to weave exquisite pop moments.

Nowhere is the conflict more obvious than on their 'hit', the single 'Atlas'.

Gliding on a thumping drum motif (pounded out one handed by Stanier) and a nagging guitar line, the track feels like boiler-plate experimental rock until Braxton chips in with treated chipmunk vocals.

Sublime and absurd, the song captures the contradictory essence of Battles: an art-house band whose playing is illuminated with the giddy joy of the big pop payoff.

Ed Power

Editors Choice

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