Wild Mercury Sound

Battles

John Mulvey

It seems a long time ago now, when I thought post-rock was the most exciting music in the world. The thing with those early records by Tortoise and such was that they made anything seem possible. Post-rock was never going to supersede rock, but in the mid-'90s it still felt like a fantastically open-minded scene. The bands weren't hung up on the old signifiers of rock, they had this voracious appetite for so much music: jazz, electronica, Krautrock, endlessly obscure diversions from the well-beaten path. There were no apparent rules, which made it all the more disappointing that it became so formulaic so fast.

I guess the stately post-rockers, rather than the eclectic jazzbos, were the ones to blame: Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor made frequently terrific records, but they had an assimilable schtick that could easily be copied by mundane crescendo-jockeys like Explosions In The Sky. One moment post-rock meant nothing but could mean anything, the next it was a quiet-loud-quiet-loud instrumental cliche.

Battles, though, make me feel like there's life in post-rock yet. Over the past few years, they've relocated the restless, questing imperative that made the scene initially so cool. "Mirrored" is their debut album proper, and it often feels like a deluxe technological upgrade of those first couple of Tortoise albums. There's a similar sense of hardcore kids branching out into a dizzying range of styles, but still retaining a sort of punkoid attack mentality, even when they're heading into jazz terrain.

Battles, of course, are not kids. Their CVs reveal apprenticeships in a bunch of bands - among them Don Caballero and Helmet - from the tougher, mathematical end of post-rock. All muscle, stamina, hard-edged theory.

"Mirrored", though, is much more fun. You could argue that there's not much heart or emotion here, that many of these tracks are exercises in hybridising genres at high intensity. But that would be to ignore how exhilarating it all is, from the math-Afrobeat start of "Race: In" onwards. Yeah, there's a lot of technoflash, and a few tunes like "Ddiamondd" bear a huge debt to prog, albeit prog compressed and diced beyond recognition.

Then songs like "Atlas" stomp in, riding a rhythm that owes as much to the Glitterbeat as it does to the avant-garde, and the mischievous magpie spirit of Battles really comes to the fore. "Leyendecker" even suggests they've been inspired by those chattering, capricious R&B productions by Timbaland (his early Aaliyah tunes, maybe). It feels like Battles are stretching way beyond the "approved" chinstroker references and making genuinely broad-minded, exciting music. Warp are putting it out in May, by the way.

Apologies for not having blogged much this week. I'm back in the swing now, and we should also be having some reports from Uncut contributors who, unlike me, actually made it to South By Southwest. See you tomorrow.


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