Battles at the Paradise on July 18

A Review of Battles at the Paradise on July 18, 2007

, Staff

In spite of their almost trance like grooves, Battles aren’t really a band you can just casually listen to. On their critically acclaimed new album, Mirrored, the band combines minimalist compositions with near mechanical instrumentation and a true sense of avant-garde. Translated to the live setting the band was very hit or miss, often times enhancing the momentum of their studio material and occasionally getting bogged down in loop pedals and noise.

The group began the show with bassist/guitarist/pedal-whiz Dave Konopka alone on stage. Konopka began with a bass line, which he looped and then layered with delay. As the drone continued he switched out his bass for a guitar and the rest of the band slowly joined him onstage, building up the song from a slow simmer to a deafening roar.

Battles’ songs are a mix of squawking keyboards and percussive guitars layered in pedals. While the group was instrumentally tight, they put their chops to work on a sort of precise aimlessness. Each movement and noise seemed purposeful, but the resulting sound was often muddled.

The band’s setup, which put the drum set front and center flanked by keyboard stations with Konopka in the back, worked well to show off the band’s performing talents, as the hardest working band member was easily drummer John Stanier. His relatively stripped down drum setup featured the beautifully finished bass drum that dominates the cover of Mirrored as well as his absurdly high crash cymbal. Not only did he keep the compositions chugging forward with his thunderous floor tom beats and twitchy hi-hat breaks, he also kept the head bobbing audience constantly guessing by seamlessly turning around the downbeats. While the rest of the band was often content to shoegaze or posture, Stanier was working up a sweat and anchoring the music.&

Unsurprisingly the set’s highlight was “Atlas,” the band’s single and easily the most accessible of Battles’ tunes. The song began with a quiet loop, hinting at the beat to come and then, following a tremendous tom fill from Stanier, the group brought the song into its churning awesomeness. The song’s driving beat and minimalist keyboard hook got the Paradise absolutely jumping, and the vocoder enhanced singing of singer/keyboardist Tyondai Braxton managed to keep the song more focused then some of Battles’ more meandering affairs. Riding the same riff for a little over four minutes, the band managed to keep things interesting by varying the songs dynamics, at times ebbing and others exploding. While Battles attempted to use such tactics throughout the night, “Atlas” was easily their greatest success as the song had enough of its own momentum to sustain the bands constant tweaking.

Although Braxton’s vocals were always a welcome addition, most of the songs we’re instrumentals that often came across as unfocused. The band clearly has the potential to break barriers between experimental music and abstract pop but would do well to refine their songwriting. At their best Battles embrace a sound whose percussiveness and originality blend with awesome force. Hopefully the band continues to play around with slightly more traditional structures so their hooks can hit as hard as they should all the time and if they can do that, it would seem that the sky is the limit.

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