Photo by Andrew Youssef (Stereogum).
In support of their latest album, Gloss Drop, Battles graced Los Angeles with a night of experimental rock stylings this Monday, headlining a show at Club Mayan in Downtown LA with tour-mates Walls and Nisennenmondai. The Italian electronic duo Walls opened the show. Working from a a table stacked with samplers, drum machines, effects pedals and other miscellaneous gear, they played a handful of lengthy hypnotic movements characterized by blissful ambience and textures morphing over steady electronic beats. Next came Nisennenmondai, an all-girl three-piece band from Tokyo, who pummeled through an otherworldly and upbeat set of progressive and moody instrumentals. With layered guitar loops, steady bass lines and evolving drum patterns, Nisennenmondai’s songs would typically begin with some minimal instrumentation and develop excitedly into epic freak outs (“Mirrorball”) or sometimes remained stubbornly dense with tension until a song’s anti-climactic ending (“Fans”). The openers’ bands set the mood perfectly for Battles, who are in fact co-currating the next ATP where all three bands are slated to perform.
Battles are definitely an exciting band to watch live, with their angular breakbeat rhythms and bass jumping around staccato loops of noisy guitar and keyboard stabs. They find a happy medium between melody and atonality, making for a sound that is both chaotic and catchy.
However, I found some of the hooks and grooves that draw the listener in on the record to be less pronounced in the live set. Poppy songs like “Sweetie and Shag” were played at a faster tempo than on the record, which I think caused the catchy groove and vocals of the song’s chorus to get lost in a cloud of complicated instrumentation. Early on in the set, I realized I shouldn’t expect my listening experience to be gratified entirely by the sense of familiarity I have with each song’s recording. Rather, I chose to enjoy it on the level of simply watching three very skilled musicians play complicated music, and to just let the music “flow though me” as the old cliche goes. That’s not to say that songs were indistinguishable. Every song was in fact, quite recognizable, and it seems that they had just been updated a bit for a live experience.
The excitement in witnessing a Battles set is to watch how they play along with both live-created and prerecorded loops and vocals while managing to maintain a compelling sense of spontaneity with the live instrumentation and loop triggering. Without any live singing, only prerecorded vocals, Battles use LED screens to display video of the various singers played in sync to the music. At times it was a bit distracting from watching the actual band, but the vocal-synced-video seemed to be controlled live by guitarist/keyboardist, Ian Williams, and not some mysterious 4th member working from off stage (although I’m not entirely sure). Either way, everything happening on stage had me wondering how the hell they were keeping it all together.
The interludes between songs were amazing. Particularly when samples of Kizu Makino’s vocal track from “Sweetie And Shag” were slowed down, chopped up and resampled for a quick improvisational segway into “Futura”. Battles played mostly the heavy hitters from Gloss Drop, but unexpectedly delivered a couple tracks from Mirrored, including the thumping crowd pleaser, “Atlas” complete with former member, Tyondai Braxon’s prerecorded vocals. I got pretty lost in watching the show and really didn’t keep track of the setlist, which only goes to show how captivating was Battles’ perfomance. The set was over before I knew it, and upon returning for the encore, Battles had a lengthy chat with the audience and then went into a beautiful ambient intro for a fresh take on Sundome hich closed the night.
Review by Dusty Clouds.