Last Night Post-everything: Battles @ Neumo’s
posted by November 5 at 10:50 AMon
Updated with video of “Atlas”
Inexplicable: Battles caused a blip in the matrix, a disturbance in the force, a fold in the space-time continuum. They started their set at 11:30; instantly, an hour later, the set was done. The music—so unprecedented as to be ridiculous, hilarious—absorbed the time that passed without the universe taking notice, part science, part fiction.
Every instrument (the quartet switched off on three guitars, bass, a pair of keyboards, a battery of digital consoles, and drums) was a drum beating out rhythms. Every rhythm braided into stuttering helixes, every helix curved into endless, arcing oblivion. The music’s digital filigree was as intricate and self-referential as a pulsing fractal and as elegant as mathematics. To open, they played for what was probably 20 minutes straight without stopping and there was no telling what they had just done to make the sounds they just made. During only a handful of moments throughout the night, what was happening on-stage visibly synched with the sounds coming from the speakers. John Stanier’s drumming—precisely off-kilter, propulsively unpredictable—was the only clear indicator of direct human causation.
That doesn’t describe it right. I was briefly aware during the show that there would be no proper way to verbalize Battles’ music, an inarguable fact in hindsight. There was no pre-existing word for the way or the words Tyondai Braxton sang: It’s scatting, it’s chanting, but it’s neither of those, it’s simultaneously machinelike and munchkinlike. There was jazz structure in the song development, and there were heavy metal aggression and prog-rock timing and techno cyclicalism. The band chewed those styles and spit out a sound beyond them all, post-everything. It was intellectual but totally natural. It was populist enough to sell the place out, accessible enough to send the crowd into a pogoing, fist-pumping frenzy during “Atlas.” The music’s brains and brawn couldn’t overshadow its sense of humor.
Overheard from the crowd between the last song and the encore were dumbfounded comparisons: “Miles Davis, In a Silent Way.” “T. Raumschmiere.” “Fugazi.” “Tortoise.” “Bebop.” “Dub.” These too were accurate but incomplete.
Outside the show it was this: “I respect the technical aspect, but what about soul?”
The soul is there to find. It’s not old-guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar-and-an-alimony-payment soul, it’s four-spectacularly-professional-guys-honing-a-relentlessly-novel-sound soul. There’s soul in the music’s willful difficulty and its resulting humor. Nothing sounds like Battles; Battles sounds like everything. It’s a brand-new thing.
That’s still not describing it right. It’s hard to tell how influential the music will be—it’s almost too monolithic, too much of itself to leave a legacy beyond itself. Which makes it really fun to be in the presence of while it’s happening, especially after you realize that time vanished and you witnessed something inexplicable and will never be able to describe the experience properly to anyone. Pure WTF??? moments are all too rare. Last night was built of them.