(Warp; 2006)

By Chet Betz | 16 March 2006

Warp’s done everyone a big favor. Prior record store forays for the work of Battles often proved fruitless, and, even when found, the EPs usually came with $10.99 price tags attached. Now it’s all under one affordable roof, Warp attempting to prep or re-acquaint or assimilate us to their freshly signed Battles dynamo in anticipation of what I can only assume will be called A LP, due out this year.

Of course, it’d be no favor to anyone if the music were superfluous or trash, both of which Battles very much is not. It’s not superfluous because Battles is a voracious, titanium-bladed mixer without a categorical clique. On the opener “SZ2,” algorithmic guitars variegate post-rock chord cycles with sinister signature-phasing before exploding in skronky fusion (at times you’ll swear that Battles’ amps are made of brass), played with the precision of a tight live band recreating hip-hop--but on crack. It’s not trash because…did you even read that last sentence.

Don Caballero’s Ian Williams is the principle axe-man here, David Konopka and Tyondai Braxton bouncing coil-sprung squiggles off his writhing, mutating leads or weaving their lines with his under a blaze of sparks and the metallic stink of solder. Who knows, though, this might just be how I choose to arbitrate credit in the daunting no-face of Battles. One fella certainly stands out from the pack; John Stanier (Helmet, Tomahawk) kills his drum kit. Straight up murders it. Leaves it bleeding out its internal organs on some sidewalk, skin crinkled and punctured. The process of its slaying, though, is far more skilled than it is brutal. Like ?uestlove, Stanier can ride the snare train relentlessly, and unlike ?uestlove, his drop-of-the-dime fills and change-ups work as continuations of the engine drive, not brakes. The world will become a much more intense place when Prefuse’s full-length collaboration with Stanier leaks from Warp’s stronghold like so much radioactive fall-out.

In titles and concept, Battles looks math, and it feels math in that the band sounds like a CPU given arms and fingers to play instruments with. But (and this is what separates this entity from its duller progenitors) the CPU of Battles has gone postal, HAL with a more acerbic madness. Battles is the actualization of “rage against the machine,” but actualization in terms of music theory, not politics, and the enraged is also the “machine” itself. The modality’s complicated and twisted: a computer self-aware, and aware that its self-awareness is dangerous, and with protocols in place to serve the interest of humans (the listeners), but interested also in its own more unknowable aspirations (do androids dream of electric sheep?), and so one of its objectives tries to subvert the others, aiming for the systematic eradication of its own coded constraints (musical formula) without letting the humans on that some nasty shit’s about to go down. The “Battles” here are the heated volleys exchanged between warring circuitry.

Thus, EP C / B EP most effectively shows the potential of Battles when its tracks represent that internal skirmish of number language. Songs like “SZ2,” “IPT2,” “B+T” and “TRAS 2” base progressions on the interlocking, combusting and subsequent re-interlocking of modular fragments that split off the guitars and keys, the straight-edge drumming keeping all those genes on the same strand. Unfortunately, Battles occasionally counterpart their macrocosmic spirals with idle experimentation, be it the loose morass of the 12-minute “BTTLS,” a poor man’s “Peking O,” or the directionless trilling of “UW.” They’re the sort of band that will quickly shoot their feet out from under themselves if they start thinking that they’re interesting because of the sorts of noises they make. It’s what they make noises do; it’s their rigid command of the horde, the sound and the fury; it’s the shackling of the electric caterwauling to a steely logic construct; it’s their coinciding revolt against that same construct: it’s these things that make Battles a gripping listen.

When Battles really kicks it (i.e. the acid jazz loop concentrate of “DANCE”), ears get blistered up into antennae, a torrent of signal stippling through the frayed lobe filigree. Established comm. link aside, it’s still impossible for the too human receiver to interpolate a literal meaning on what Battles transmits. But the flow’s energized pattern, alone, devastates; this is classical music’s formalism made post-everything and very fucking hardcore.

The hope’s that the full-length debut finds Battles on the brink of total meltdown.