Thursday, 18 October 2007


Glitterbeat? Puzzle Pop? Math Rock? Choose whichever languidly contrived label irks least but there’s no escaping it – this was the year music got clever. Where 2006 herald the birth of New Rave's neon-tinged dim-wittedness, 2007 gleefully witnessed its demise. All of a sudden, the idiotic glowsticks and fluorescent melodies that zigzagged across the breadth of the UK were replaced by a spontaneous sonic intricacy bereft of structure and oozing intelligence.

Yet, at the turn of the year, this cranium bulging revival seemed unlikely. The Klaxons were emblazoned on the cover of every trend-ravenous rag and High Street stores pumped out psychedelic outfits that could only have been designed by the bedraggled love-child of Johnny Thunders and George Clinton. In short, things were bad. But then in April, as if out of nowhere, a bug-eyed, acid-freaking, mind-bending EP called Atlas landed. The tides were slowly turning; Battles had commenced.

One month later and the New York-based quartet further moistened the crusted pants of music hacks everywhere with towering long-playing beast Mirrored - a stunning, catalytic debut that propelled the band’s aural intellectualism into the spotlight. But when Spins and Needles catches up with founding member Tyondai Braxton before a show at London’s Koko it discovers Battles are still coming to terms with their new found status.

“[2007’s] been a whirlwind – completely amazing and totally unexpected,” exclaims the multi-instrumentalist and son of jazz musician Anthony Braxton. “On one hand, you have a crazy idea that if you like something then someone else will. But if you look at the track record of this type of music I guess it’s surprising when something like this crops over into the mainstream and grabs people when you wouldn’t expect it to. It’s not like the attention has been over the top but we’re all really excited by the reaction.”

This reaction has been globally unanimous, with Mirrored turning-on everyone from sour-faced British indie kids to the “absolutely manic” Japanese pop-loving public. So, how does the band feel about this newly acquired fan-base? “It’s incredible,” says Braxton. “At first we had people [at gigs] who were a little more tuned into this kind of music and then as the momentum of [Mirrored] has picked up, I’ve started to realise a whole cross section of people are interested and that’s a really encouraging thing. It doesn’t matter that there are so many people interested, the thing I’m really excited about is how different the audience is – that’s a really great feeling.”

Impossible to pin down, Battles is a band that works without constraints and it’s this ethos of malleability that Braxton attributes to Mirrored’s appeal: “Our strength is the players and the perspective of the band and the challenge is always to find room enough for everyone to be satisfied with what they are doing,” he explains. “The open-endedness of the exploration [during the recording of Mirrored] led us down fresh paths which makes the record kind of opaque. But the process of creating the record was really fresh and whether people think it’s original or not is irrelevant to us.”

Yet original is exactly what Mirrored is. Stinging nerve-ends with gnarling laser-gun electro, inter-planetary android warbling and jitterbug percussion, it’s a smorgasbord of Kraut-rock, Dance, Funk and - to a certain extent - Pop. But when The Skinny attempts to uncover the influences behind the record’s sound, Braxton’s answer is equally obtuse: “It’s something we try not to answer – it kind of marginalises us,” he smarts. “In a way, our influences are transparent – you can really hear them [on Mirrored] – and in another way they are quite obscured but, really, I would say the music itself has been pulled out of thin air.”

Right, that’s cleared that up, but with the tedious list frenzy of ‘Record of the Year’ rapidly encroaching, which spinning disc gets Battles seal of approval? “Oh…,”sighs Braxton. “The Dirty Projectors new album (Rise Above) is great but honestly I really don’t know.” Perhaps this uncertainty means he considers Mirrored the best of 2007? With a knowing intelligence that underpins the band’s musical ethos, Braxton laughs: “Only if you say so, only if you say so.”

Battles - too clever by half.

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