Battles: Don't Do the Math
- Words: Cameron Macdonald
Battles pencils in rock and roll so pristine and mathematically precise that a slight breeze might shatter it. Each guitar note, microtone, and beat is fixed like leaves on a tree branch that break off and continue the music as they skitter down the sidewalk. Just don't call the New York quartet "math rock."
"Is it fair to call a chef salad with a multitude of ingredients 'lettuce?'" quips guitarist Tyondai Braxton. Battles does not play songs as much as they concoct loops, with three guitars blurting their simple parts into a grand argument. The instrumental band's excursions range from mechanical trance-rock to noise-loop experiments that flow like amniotic fluid in the womb.
"The effect of it all could still add up to something that was complicated, but I wanted the phrases to be simple," guitarist Ian Williams says. "From what I read about the band, people don't always see it that way, but what you aim for and what you are aren't always the same thing."
Battles, originally christened Abomination Restitution, formed in New York in 2002 when solo guitarist Braxton bounced ideas off of Williams (of Storm & Stress and Don Caballero fame). Guitarist David Konopka (Lynx), and heavyweight champion drummer John Stanier (Helmet, Tomahawk) later figured in. "The thing is [that] everyone in the band has a strong musical background already, so as far as that is concerned, we all knew the ingredients," Braxton details. "It was just a matter of rehearsing and writing to see what would sift to the bottom."
Earlier this year, Battles toured the States with Scott Herren (Prefuse 73), who later joined them for an encore at the Sonar Festival in Barcelona. Braxton mentioned that Herren defended his honor at a Florida gig by throwing his sandwich and a fist at a drunk who tried to strangle Braxton. The poor victim later counter-attacked a UK heckler who hated on his The Fall shirt. "Well, we're a seminal British band and if you're from Britain, you should be kissing my ass right now," Braxton recalled lying.
As for Battles' more peaceful side, their record covers typically strike the eye with simple, wordless photographs of pastoral fields and trees, heightening the band's mystique. "The photos are really beautiful and that is the statement in itself," Braxton said. "There is a sense of neutrality in the way we build our music and [we] wanted that same sense with our visuals. It lends itself to multiple interpretations."
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