A quirky pop sensibility, electronic experimentation, and brainy math rock all collide in unique and interesting ways in this, Battles’ first full-length record. Which is about what’d you expect of a supergroup made up of personnel from Don Caballero, Helmet and Lynx loosely fronted by an avante-garde electronic composer from Boston, but from that starting point shit just goes wild—outside of John Stanier’s trademark metronomic precision behind the drumkit and Tyondai Braxton’s oddly endearing Chipmunks-on-acid vox, it’s almost impossible to discern who is playing what. Guitars sound like keyboards, keyboards sound like guitars, samples pop in and out of the mix and all of them loop and pulse and bounce within the framework of a bizarre yet muscular robot funk that recalls King Crimson and Talking Heads filtered through Kraftwerk and modern IDM.
The chirpy, winding instrumentation of the first track “Race: In” serves as a nice intro before laying into the epic stomp of “Atlas,” an instant anthem that is as infectious as it weird with a bizarre Tyondai warble for a chorus (“Sing this hook”) and Stanier setting up the gradually evolving groove that drives the whole machine, the whole band tight as a fist. After the short “Ddiamondd” follows “Tonto,” a track that is as guarded and reflective as “Altas” was bouncy—a spiraling electronic melody intercut with dissonant yet spare guitar and a seemingly static, robotic swing that again mutates and shifts underfoot. As it slowly stretches out, ending on one sustained note fading into silence after seven minutes you’d wish it last longer so you could figure out its sublime intricacies.
And the palette only gets more varied from there. “Leyendecker” features more electronic chortling over a somewhat more ominous soundscape of moody bass and beefy industrial drums, worlds away from the giddy clockwork of “Rainbow” (which oddly features the only vocals on the album that don’t sound filtered); the atmospheric oddity of “Bad Trails” that sounds like Brian Eno circa-Another Green World stepped into the studio for a little while; and the jumpy math rock mania of “Tij.”
Regardless of the labels you slap on Battles, this is some of the most vivid and engaging rock you will hear in the ‘00s, the sound of innovation with a sense of fun and none of the clueless SRS BUSINESS vibe that grounds most things deemed “progressive.” And you can even dance to it. Sorta. That alone makes it worth more than a stack of Mars Volta albums.