Artistic intention is one of the worst ways to appraise artistic works. This is true across the board and for all mediums. I really don’t care very much at all what the artist is trying to do but care very much about what he does. That said, sometimes artistic intention and an artists’ work fit hand-in-glove (e.g. Buggles 1980 LP The Age of Plastic, Peter Shaffer’s Equus, [insert your choice here] ) but the value of the latter is never dependent upon the premise of the former. All of which is to say that it’s been a very long time since I’ve encountered a band whose intentions matter less than Battles.
Certainly without peer as the New York band of the moment, if not the band of the moment period, Battles is less the super-group they are often tagged as and more a rarified, yet ironically populist, band. Sure, John Stanier was in Helmet but Helmet was always pretty lame and so much more a project of Page Hamilton than a real band, anyway. Yeah, and Ian Williams was in Don Cab but I never cared about that band and still don’t. As far as personalities go the only truly exciting “personality” in the band is Anthony Braxton’s son Tyondai Braxton and that’s only through the accident of birth.
In interviews and stories the band appears flip. (“If a sorority girl can get off on ‘Atlas,’ and thencome to a show and hear a song like ‘TIJ,'” that’s fuckin’ great.“- Dave Konopka; if anyone out there has examples of these guys being totally open and honest please send them in!) I’d probably be flip, too, if my ass was getting kissed from all sides all the time, too, but Battles seems either complete intent on not taking themselves too seriously or intent on having you believe they don’t take themselves seriously. I do believe they take their music seriously, in any case, but to what extent their heavily technocratic rock is an elaborate test case of inside humor has yet to be seen. But that doesn’t really matter after all, anyway so let’s get to the point.
While I can take or leave the original few Battles EPs as decent artifacts from a then-new band the fact of the matter is that this years LP Mirrored is the most important record of the year. But not for he reasons one might think. It ‘s importance has nothing at all to do with the fact that it will wind up on hundreds of top ten lists, usher in a new crop of math rock fans, is already considered a contemporary classic (which is the type of bogus terminology I hate) or, really, even that it’s a solid album of tunes. It’s the most important record 2007 because it is 2007. It is an aural snapshot, not of the bands particular skill, but of the time in which it was created. That is to say that Battles has made an album which is not merely new but one that is the sound of Modernity itself.
And this is why it will sound old, but hopefully not quaint, in very short order.
Mirrored is not a bad album at all. It’s actually quite good. Incredible at times. It’s sounds work as mental nerve agents. You don’t get inside this album; it orders you about. You stay with it because by the third song a Stockholm Syndrome -type sympathy has taken over the listener and the single closest thing to comfort the album has to offer (“Leyendecker”) is the crumb that causes cravings and the belief that, after all, there’s at least a shred of kindness in the captor. Mirrored, however, is not at all benevolent. Nor, however is it entirely malevolent. It is, though, the musical equivalent of the technologically driven day to day of the world and the economic/political/social subtexts it both sustains and expands. Just as technology has not freed us from work (but created more work) Mirrored does not free us from the world but synthesizes the world to a pitch of agitation such that slight respite is considered bliss and oppressiveness is an accepted, even desired, norm.
When, in the future, Mirrored is referred to as a “classic” (used here to mean comforting, familiar, etc) album it will be the fault of lazy writers and rose-colored glasses. If this record winds up ever being a whimsical, sweet memory to those who admire it now (including me) then what that will say is that we, in the future, had decided that the world of 2007 was a good time for humanity.
No matter Battles intention, this is the album they have created.