Battles, methodically plodding along

I mentioned a little while ago that one gig-goer’s reaction to the new incarnation of Battles was less-than-complimentary. Since then, I’ve watched the trio’s live session, recorded for La Blogotheque, and I sort of see his point.

“Ian Williams, on keys and guitar, looks louche at the best of times.”

At times, it feels like drummer-karaoke. There’s a lot of loops and samples being triggered, but the only constant visual appeal is John Stanier, on his kit, thrashing away like an absolute beast. He’s magical, and charming; the rest of the band, less so. Ian Williams, on keys and guitar, looks louche at the best of times, and in these performances he exudes a casualness that’s a bit of a turn-off, frankly. The camera lingers on him too often, which shows exactly how disinterested he approaches the live creation of these undoubtedly complex, multi-layered songs. Over on the other side of the stage, Dave Konopka does his best to fill in the gaps between prerecorded elements, with some interesting textural guitar work, but there are still yawning corridors of time in which there’s a fundamental disconnect between what the pair of them are fiddling with, and the music roaring out of the speakers.

“Atop, there are a dozen competing melodies, which chime and whir and whine through the song.”

That’s not a criticism of the songs themselves, fortunately. From what I’ve read, “Wall Street” looks to be a Gloss Drop highlight, and the evidence presented in this live performance does little to dispel the idea. These new songs appear to be more densely constructed, but they don’t descend into self-indulgence. “Wall Street” bursts out of a sparkling pool of fragmented guitar, with characteristically ricocheting drumming and intermittently groaning bass. Atop, there are a dozen competing melodies, which chime and whir and whine through the song. I suppose it’s closer in sound to some of Battles’s formative EPs than the more honed aesthetic of Mirrored.

The second song, “Futura“, is less hyperactive, and slithers in on a liquid groove. The first part of the song burbles with sludgy organs and detuned steel pans, the latter of which sparks Williams into action like nowhere else in the performance. There’s a lot of build-up, then a brief drums-only interlude, and then… more of the same, lurching composition. The song peters out with no clear conclusion—which is either a disappointment, or a sign of sophistication, depending on how postmodern one is. Me, I’m undecided.

I guess there’s good reason to say the band are “plodding along” if you watch these live performances. Maybe one expects too much visual excitement which, without Tyondai Braxton‘s method-behind-madness flailing around, doesn’t show up at all. What this means is that I’m really looking forward to listening right through Gloss Drop without any extra-aural distractions.

But I might not hit their live shows any time soon.

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