I don’t usually listen to leaks. I’m old fashioned that way. I prefer to wait until I have the physical object in my hand before listening. As Armando Iannucci said, “there are only two things in the world that give us absolute happiness: one is unwrapping a newly bought CD.”
But for the first time I have listened to a leak. I just couldn’t stand waiting two months for the album to come out. I am just far too excited about this band to let this get away.
And what an album! Mirrored is undoubtedly the Battles that we have become familiar with over the past couple of years, but there is a really different vibe to their sound in what is technically their début album.
Battles are now a little bit cheeky, happy and bouncy. There is a little bit of a sense of humour shining through, but at the same time they have not allowed their incredible sense of how to surprise their listener to slip. Even the track titles are noticeably different. Many of them even contain actual words rather than looking like excerpts from half-remembered algebra lessons.
The album opens with the frantic ‘Race: In’, which already signals one of the major changes to the Battles sound: vocals take centre stage. Not lyrics, mind — vocals, often skewed so much that you cannot understand a word that is being said. The vocals in ‘Race: In’ sound a bit like dogs yapping.
Lead single ‘Atlas’ swiftly follows, and this is such an awesome track. There is a constant beat and a pounding, relentless bass accompanying the track throughout. Yet despite the basic foundations, here is a track that is as unpredictable as anything else Battles have come up with in the past.
It is kind of the theme of the album. It is recognisably Battles, the band that is liked by many for being so unconventional. With Mirrored, Battles have been unafraid to be as unconventional as to add seemingly conventional elements such as pounding beat and prominent vocals. But these elements are all incorporated in a ways that still surprise and reward greatly.
‘Atlas’ is a tough act to follow, but ‘Ddiamondd’ has a good shot at it. This is an utterly madcap track, with fast-paced chripy singing. If you can imagine it, the track is like a mixture between a sped-up version of Maxïmo Park’s ‘Limassol’ and Clor’s ‘Hearts on Fire’. And then comes the sped-up whistling that sounds like a messed up Seven Dwarves.
My favourite track, though, is ‘Rainbow’. It starts off really quietly with quite a basic riff. Gradually it builds up a bit of a warped streak before eventually turning into something that’s simultaneously mad and happy. It all builds up to a quite triumphant ending, like one of those emotional post-rock bands without (quite) as much pretentiousness. I just don’t know how to describe the track, I don’t even know why I’m trying. Just fantastic.
‘Rainbow’ particularly highlights the John Stainer’s idiosyncratic drumming style. Unrelenting snare drum rolls are interspersed with hi-hat rolls. Full marks to him for effort. To see just how much he puts into his drumming, check out this video of part of ‘SZ2’.
‘Snare Hanger’ is another stand-out track for me with its glitching, almost hip-hoppy drums. The track ends sounding almost like it was influenced by The Futureheads (“oh – o – oh oh!”).
Meanwhile, ‘Tij’ reminds me of Blur’s most experimental moments multiplied. This track is another one that ends interestingly. Splintered, it sounds like a beatboxer with a serious case of the hiccups.
In short, this is a shimmering, dazzlingly experimental album that isn’t afraid to blast out a good melody. I really hope this album is noticed by a lot of people, because it’s probably one of the best I’ve heard for a few years.
Already a lot of Battles’s more po-faced fans have reacted angrily to the new direction. It’s too happy, it’s not serious enough, and — ewww — vocals. I just love the fact that this is only their début album, and already there is ‘old’ Battles and ‘new’ Battles. This is a band that is clearly not scared to push boundaries of any sense, even if it seemingly risks alienating some of their more serious fans out there.