The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Friday, June 15, 2007

“Atlas” by the NYC quartet Battles, as featured on their spankable new album Mirrored, is one of this year’s tracks. Setting up its almighty Sweet/Quatro glam stomp, it is quickly mirrored (QED) by a demented speeded-up vocal chorus, more Joe Meek’s still new world than Chipmunks with only occasionally discernible words (“Won’t you show me where it is?”) which heighten the impression of an Earl Brutus/Lieutenant Pigeon-style guerrilla raid. As with Earl Brutus the track is apt to erupt into sudden onsets of unapologetic rockism, with some very Brian May guitar lines backed by a percussion track which sounds like sprites tap dancing on my rainy roof tiles. Acknowledging the not-too-gnarled path from glam to House, there is an epic breakdown mid-track and a gradual cathartic build-up (no no, wait, wait, any minute now!) before the cumulative and glorious explosion. It ends very subtly with a transitional passage leading into Cabaret Voltaire-ish post-punk electronica, to remind us who the midwife was.

Are Battles post-rock or prog rock? I suppose they qualify as post-rock on the grounds of the very precise architecture and groundswell of their music (no solos here), and such architectural precision is to be expected from the man who seems to be the group’s “leader,” keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton – and yes, he is the son of Anthony and has clearly learned from his dad’s scrupulous application of viable theorems to post-Ornette jazz and improvisation. Sometimes, though, they fall directly into the “trap” of prog revivalism – “Ddiamondd” with its epileptic vocal/guitar unison lines and processed whistlings reminds me of Focus, and the first part of “Rainbow,” after commencing with an echoing, ricocheting bass abducted from the Sun Studios and then moving into Bill Frisell guitar abstractions climaxes in whirpools of crashing organ chords which are pure ELP. But then, quite unexpectedly, in its second section it melts into what sounds like a more metallic variant on AR Kane, with extravagantly impalpable vocals and cumulonimbi of snatched dreams.

I had not hitherto conceived of the notion of bubblegum George Crumb but “Bad Trails” manages it with its bass-heavy waltz undertow and swooning starbursts (“The night is still cool,” and Braxton makes that “cool” last an eternity). With its varispeeded vocals and clipped guitars, “Leyendecker” sounds like the Meat Puppets on Saturn with Jet Harris and Tony Meehan paying a brief, flying visit in their silver jet. The opener, “Race: In” starts with another gentle 3/4 lead-in though this is soon augmented by busy, near-military drums, then whistling, then guitar and bass, then Daniel Miller-style synth anvil clangs, before settling into a frantically harmolodic Ronald Shannon Jackson groove. Then there’s a sudden plunge into a pool of lushness, with a slow 4/4 tempo superimposed over the basic 3/4. Some “Happy Wanderer” wordless choruses slowly warp into Art of Noise discontinuity; eventually the voices sound like Bowie on side two of Low.

For basic Gillette razor power, “TIJ” is the album’s pick; a post-SST melange of a shuffle which rattles impeccably onwards beneath an avalanche of cut-up vocals and cut-down electronic burps. But, “Atlas” aside, my favourite track is “Tonto,” which starts out like an outtake from early m-ziq, a lonesome elegy played soberly on radiator caps and the sides of variously-filled milk bottles before a skanking 1968 Steve Miller Band groove makes its entrance. The track then vacillates between rockabilly guitar ripples, omnitonal harmolodic lines on electric piano and guitar, and a heavy metal hoedown before settling into an Oriental melodic sequence. Finally the track takes 2-3 minutes to slow down in a gradual, grand rallentando, ever lowering and dipping, until we are back with the piece’s opening desolate clanks.

So Battles are neither doctrinaire post-rock nor straight-down-the-MOJO-line revivalist prog rock; think of them perhaps as a jazzier, more pointillistic Do Make Say Think (short snaps of melody as opposed to long, undulating lines of development) and yes, I did occasionally think of the instrumental components of Apostle Of Hustle. But as a record Mirrored is never less than fascinating and often quite entrancing indeed. I want to see and hear “Atlas” dancing in the heads of millions before the summer’s out.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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