It's a bit unfair to call Mirrored the debut from Battles. The New York quartet released three EPs in four months on three labels in 2004. For their first LP, due in May, they arrive with the aegis of Warp Records at the behest of friend, superfan and now-labelmate Scott Herren (Prefuse 73). And there's the line-up, too, which is a bit different from your average, young New York four-piece: You've got Ian Williams, the math-rock-architecting guitar of Don Caballero, and former Lynx guitarist Dave Konopka. Drummer John Stanier lists Tomahawk and Helmet on his resume, and Tyondai Braxton—son of jazz and theory pioneer Anthony Braxton—has been building accomplished improvisations for guitar and voice under his own name for years. Indeed, Battles is a bit different.
But the asterisks qualifying Mirrored's status as a "debut" come only as appeasement. Most bands will spend their entire careers trying to make a document as impressive, cohesive and intricate as Mirrored, and they won't do it. That this is a first effort is a bitter swill, for sure. But it's too good to dismiss.
There's a fascinating volatility in check that tides through Mirrored. None of the players have identical influences or experiences, and—individually—the four elements are capable of playing anything. It will get called math-rock, but it's more like pop music where the only inhibition is perfection. The imaginations here seem capable and willing to incorporate everything into Battles sound. Take Braxton, for instance, who turns the notion that Battles is an instrumental band (it was for its EPs) on its head with Mirrored. He's beat-boxing, pitchshifting his falsetto harmonics and using his voice to add the same cathartic sweep as a dusty old pipe organ on "Rainbow." Or just listen to every guitar harmony on the album, incredibly technical but wink-and-nod playful. This is the best Battles album yet. And if it breaks your ego to hear it's the first, join the club. It means you're not in the band.
Battles play Local 506 with Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan and Hazerai Saturday, March 24, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.