Tonight at 9:30 p.m.
At The Blind Pig
$15, Ages 18+
If the majority of pop culture has taught us anything about man versus machine, it’s that Kubrick’s HAL 9000 is an asshole and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting is more calculable than any impending mechanical apocalypse.
Fortunately, as will be clear tonight at The Blind Pig, there can be much more satisfying takes on the war waged between anthropoid and apparatus. Welcome to the world of Battles.
Make no mistake about its name. Within New York City’s indie-famous, post-everything band, you’ll find the gears of war, guitars, beats and voice samples turning in unison more often than against themselves. In this regard, it’s downright unfair to sterilize such music with a label as arbitrary as “math rock.” Yet even if Battles bears some resemblance to the genre, it doesn’t take Pythagoras to recognize a thumping, human heartbeat thrown into its equation.
“We’re not, you know, robots or anything,” guitarist and keyboardist Ian Williams said. Reconsidering, he said, “Well, I am actually, but some of the other members aren’t.”
Beneath Williams’s humor is the humble compliance to Battles’s notoriety as a superhumanly tight live band. Of course, it’s easy to grasp the hype when considering its personnel – a veritable list of who’s who in the world of progressive rock: ex-Helmet and ex-Tomahawk drummer John Stanier, ex-Lynx guitarist Dave Konopka, ex-Don Caballero guitarist Ian Williams and Tyondai Braxton, son of avant-garde jazz composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton.
The group’s own four-year history is nearly as impressive.
Following a string of successful EPs with 2007’s shimmering debut full-length Mirrored, Battles has created a visionary world in which seasoned, in-the-pocket rhythms close ranks with the technology of live samples and guitar stomp boxes. But this is only the beginning – the melodic artillery bears the handprint of real humanity.
“(Early on), there were a lot of ideas of what we didn’t want to be versus what we wanted to be,” Williams said. “But that’s another story.”
The Battles story, it seems, has everything to do with Williams and Co.’s desire to pursue a music that would stretch and challenge the acclaim each member had already achieved. Not limited to melodic and rhythmic innovation, members also conduct unique experiments in timbre and unconventional musical techniques.
“In Don Cab, I used to tap the (guitar) fretboard with my left hand and my right hand,” Williams said. “It sort of looked like Eddie Van Halen or something, although I don’t think I played like that at all. But I realized if I took my right hand and played the keyboard (simultaneously) I could get this real sloppy, organic guitar string mixed with a hard, static, cold keyboard note – like hot sauce on a bagel.”
While free associations like “hot sauce on a bagel” fail to capture the space oddity and heart pumping machinery that is Battles, the opportunity to experience their live show on Friday promises to balance things out – or at least get the gears turning and the heads nodding.