Global warming and worldwide nuclear war be damned, the future is gonna be great. The four space cadets of Battles have been there, and they brought us back a shiny barnacle-encrusted artifact in the form of their first full-length, Mirrored, to get us hopped-up about our exodus to the intergalactic megalopolises of the third millennium A.D. If you’re intolerant of cyborgs or scared that they might dance better than you, it would be best to skip this one. Because there are lots of cyborgs on Mirrored, and they all dance better than you.
a look at that album art. That’s Battles’ setup, with drums and guitars and
keyboards and mixing boards and pedals and stacks of amps all smooshed into a
small room. It seems larger than it is, because the walls are all mirrors,
reflecting and refracting the tableaux ’til it becomes an endless sea of
silvery steel and interconnected cables. And that’s Mirrored in a spit-shined
metallic nutshell — it’s a field recording from inside a futuristic factory.
Drums have become pistons, guitar strings have turned into pulley systems, and
millions of musical gears work together flawlessly to keep the machine grooving
But there’s a ghost in this machine, a smear of alien accessibility a light-year wide. It seeps in through the melodic call-and-response guitars of “Race: In,” the sleazy T. Rex shuffle of first single “Atlas,” the zany circus keyboard lines that Tyondai Braxton (son of avant-jazz saxophonist Anthony Braxton) and Ian Williams (ex-Don Caballero) concoct all album long. Most of all you can hear it in Braxton’s vocal performances, which form supersonic hooks out of wordless chipmunk soul (“Leyendecker”) and Animal Collective-style logorrhea (“Ddiamondd”) without once crossing the pretense barrier. The members of Battles could have parlayed their newfound melodic bent into a really great indie-pop record. Instead, they took the road less traveled by running Braxton’s vocals through god knows how many effects pedals, eliminating the possibility of understanding him and making his voice yet another remarkable instrumental layer.
To top it all off, the indie-rock universe hasn’t coughed up a record as rhythmically thrilling as Mirrored in ages. Where Battles’ three EPs mapped out a pointillist cosmos of jerky, alien rhythms, Mirrored connects the dots. John Stanier’s four-dimensional polyrhythms interlock with guitars and keyboard cascades on “Race: In,” forging a cyber-Afrobeat groove that eclipses anything Stanier did with Helmet; “Tonto” rides a robotic camel through a Martian desert, and the whole band decelerates with perfect control as it pulls in to the station. Even the drumless “Bad Trails” feels like just another facet of Battles’ rhythmic arsenal. Double-dog dare you to figure out where the live tape ended and the computer processing began. It doesn’t much matter anyway. Like I said, Mirrored is rock music for the space-traveling cyborgs of the future, and we’re lucky just to have it now.