Battles first came to my attention a couple of years back. Rumours of a group featuring ex members of Don Caballero and Helmet were to these ears (on paper) the equivalent of musical nirvana (spiritual, not Seattle). I presumed they would sound like Don Caballero, only heavier (Helmeter?) On preparing to listen to their debut EP, I was braced for a flurry of slaps round the face - only to receive a well-mannered stroke of the chin. This wasn’t musical machine guns - it was clever musical noodlings in the territory of arch-noodlers Tortoise, and well; I had Tortoise for that sort of thing. So, Battles slipped off the mental radar, only to sporadically reappear in the form of some live shows last year, live shows I didn’t attend but from whose reviews I learned that the drummer had a massive cymbal stand.
When Mirrored arrived in the in-tray, my memory was jogged to that early hope. After a quick, half-hearted first listen, it appeared my preconceptions were right - here were a bunch of incredibly talented and tight musicians, overly pleased with themselves for making music more enjoyable to them than the listener. Like a series of ‘in’ jokes they were reluctant to share.
But how wrong I was. Spend some quality time with Mirrored and it soon becomes clear that it is a great record on many levels.Yes - they are having a good time, but this is by no means an exclusive party. Opening track Race:In sets the tone nicely and is a good snapshot of what Battles seem to be about. A driving hi-hat and snare rim percussion, and a subtle - repetitive lead guitar part - are joined at various stages in the songs 5 minutes, with whistling, chanting, chimes, what appears to be some sort of pipe percussion, a xylophone, sleigh bells, keyboards, great drum beats. And this invention, never at the cost of quality, continues over the other 10 songs, before closing with Race:Out (a speeded up/slowed down version of track one).
All of which comes together to rock hard, groove hard, be at once serious and intelligent whilst good fun and high-spirited. Mirrored has pulled off a great trick of sounding unlike anything else, and whilst a venture into unchartered territory could require a certain level of pretension, it remains completely open and accessible to all. Mirrored will most likely feature in end of year ‘best-of’ lists and is quite possibly the soundtrack to the best movie not yet made. A movie where Gary Busey gets kicked in the shins by a midget. That’s the vibe of the thing.
Listen to track here (Windows Media):