Article for Arthur Newspaper
Published in Arthur, issue 6
Co-authored with Lyne Dwyer
I saw Battles in the spring of 2007 at Lee’s Palace in Toronto. They were touring on the Atlas 12” single and, if my memory is correct, they opened with this song. I suspect many of us were familiar with the Battles EP’s but we weren’t ready for this new sound. As they wrapped up “Atlas”, we could barely bring our hands together to clap. This wasn’t the Battles we knew, and this was a very good thing.
Eight years later, Battles returned to Lee’s on October 1, 2015. Unlike the earlier show, the venue was certainly at capacity. The crowd was energized and surely more familiar with the two albums since Atlas: Mirrored (2007) and Gloss Drop (2011). The latest tour is in support La Di Da Di (2015). All albums were released on Warp Records.
Stylistically, Battles is a combination of experimental math-rock and dance-pop. They have described themselves as a group strongly interested in repetition and have emphasized the art of looping as the backbone of their work. Their music is an organized chaos, balancing the complicated interplay of Ian Williams (guitarist) and John Stainer (drummer) with Dave Konopka’s minimal aesthetic (guitarist).
The set featured mostly new material, likely because of the band’s commitment to musical progression. Additionally, all of Mirrored was written with Tyondai Braxton, who left the band amicably shortly after the album’s release and a few tours. The 2011 album also featured a number of guest artists and vocalists, so playing these tunes live – really live – is now impossible.
That being said, on October 1, Battles did play “Futura” and “Ice Cream” from Gloss Drop. Both these tunes have an “afro-pop” sound, to use the title of a Don Caballero song, Williams’s prior band. “Ice Cream”, the opening track and single, features Matias Aguayo on vocals. At the Lee’s show, with Aguayo’s pre-recorded vocals in Battles’s hands, “Ice Cream” became a remix of itself. “Atlas” worked in the same way, but the band exchanged Braxton’s vocals with a London-based school choir. This change added a whole new dimension to the tune. “Atlas” concluded the set and the crowd could not have been more pleased.
On to the new songs: Battles began their set with “Dot Com”, the seventh track from La Di Da Di. This opening tune served as a taste of the new sound and it provided hints of recognition of what the old fans could expect. The unexpected influence of Toronto’s Holy Fuck can certainly be heard in this song.
In addition to “Dot Com”, Battles played “FF Bada”, “Summer Simmer”, “Tricentennial”, and “Tyne Wear” from the new album. The title of a Battles piece often indicates something about the sound. “FF Bada” is one of the most math-rock-sounding tracks while “Summer Simmer” slowly transforms math-rock into a groovy dance, albeit with an abrasive synth during the chorus. On “Summer Simmer”, similar to other tracks, Williams rocks the guitar and the synth at the same time. This always makes for an outrageous sight.
“Tricentennial” immediately announces itself as a fanfare and is equally as short. The fanfare is not a line of trumpets, but Williams’s and Konopka’s synchronized guitars with brass-like effects. I watched the guitarists during the entire song – they never took their eyes off each other. As complicated as their music may be, the intense concentration for the math-rock/classic rock crossover is something I’ve never seen before. After “Tricentennial”, Battles calmed themselves down with “Tyne Wear”, a short, looping slow-jam complete with sleigh bells.
For an encore, Battles played the single from La Di Da Di, “The Yabba.” This tune undoubtedly shares Don Caballero’s fascination with technical rock. Williams and Konopka often write their guitar tracks separate from one another, thus when they reunite to create music, the result is a barrage of seemingly conflicting melodies and rhythms that eventually pair well together as the song progresses.
The body language and interplay of the band was entertaining and memorable. The anticipatory nature of the music and the emphasis on the multiple themes in each track lent itself well to a massive stage presence. Williams seemed to physically embody their use of polyrhythms and Stainer, likely due to the towering height of his signature crash symbol, was soaked head-to-toe in sweat, barely a half-hour into the night. His physical exertion did not rob him of his energy. While Konopka reserved himself physically, he was more eager to address the audience directly between songs, creating a level of involvement that cannot exist while they are at play.
The opening act, Buke and Gase, are also on tour with Battles. Their respective sounds complement each other well and, combined, both bands make for an aurally pleasurable evening.
Jackson and His Computerband is the pseudonym of Jackson Fourgeaud. This French IDM artist has been cranking out tunes since 1996 and is a smash hit in Europe, performing at various festivals and venues across the continent.
Released this month, Jackson’s newest and second album for Warp Records, Glow, is a mix of electronic genres not crafted into a sound that is uniquely his own but varying with each track depending on his whim. This description may have the ring of a criticism, however, what we get from Glow despite its superficial lack of originality, is quite the opposite.
Jackson showcases his talents with electronic music across a range of tempos, rhythms and beats, with or without vocal tracks. Warp frequently delivers the best and Jackson is part of the label’s excellent roster.
The two opening tracks differ greatly and also set the tone for the pieces to follow. In the first track “Blow,” and later in “Memory,” there is the distinct sound of the early 2000s pop band sensation Pinback. The tracks’ soothing tempo and vocals will lull you into a warm and cozy slumber.
Tracks like “Seal” and “More” remind me of Jackson’s label mate and equally competent IDM musician, Chris Clark. Jackson and Clark have the superb ability to create groovy dance tracks without the annoyance of incredibly loud and overpowering drum and bass. The rhythm, the melody and its variations, as well as the overlapping vocal tracks in these two pieces are exemplary in their innovativeness, providing renewed surprises with each spin and also something for listeners to nod their heads to.
Many of the numbers in Glow take their cue from Battles’s game-changing Mirror (2007), also on Warp. We find this influence in “More,” but it comes out most explicitly in “Dead Living Things.” This tune could not quite find itself on Mirror but could certainly appear on the newest Battles record, the barely audible and electronically saturated singing reminiscent of Tyondai Braxton before his departure. It is no shock then, like the first single “Atlas” from Mirror, “Dead Living Things” is the first official single with a video, from Glow.
The cues from other artists and bands does not stop there. The upbeat “G.I. Jane (Fill Me Up)” could be equally at home on a Daft Punk or Depeche Mode album. When I researched Jackson I was not surprised to find “G.I. Jane” released as a single prior to Glow – the verse/chorus structure should get every listener up to dance. Similarly the quick tempos of “Blood Bust,” “Pump,” and “Arp #1” along with eight-minute closer “Billy,” borrow upon the sound of Toronto’s Holy Fuck, and would not be out of place in a club with a creative DJ.
Two tracks caught me off-guard: the slow (and poorly titled?) “Orgysteria” and the classic-pop inspired “Vista.” The former seems a cross between Imogen Heap’s immensely popular “Hide and Seek (Whatcha Say)” and the relaxed and hallucinogenic sound of Eluvium. The track features a hypnotizing hum and piano which, by the time of the coda, turns into a muffled and fuzzy instrument that should, like “Blow” and “Memory,” leave us with a sense of comfort. On the other hand, “Vista” seems to be a bit of a failure. It attempts to recreate an 80s dance/pop sound and does not do the decade justice. Perhaps for fans of Cyndi Lauper this track would not leave such a sour taste on the musical palette.
Glow is one of the more interesting electronic albums of the last few years, if only for its range. There are at least two tracks here for even the most distinguished of musical tastes. If you are familiar with the Warp Records catalog then add Jackson and His Computer Band to your collection. If you have never listened to the likes of Battles, Squarepusher, Clark, or Jamie Liddell—pick up Jackson and His Computerband anyway. It will not disappoint.
Yesterday I saw a Keepsake sticker on a (real, live) post. I doubt the sticker was referring to this Florida band from the late nineties; for now I’m going to think it was.
Remember high school?
Every time I get to see an old punk rock or hardcore band it makes me feel pretty warm and fuzzy inside, combining both nostalgia and the unique experience of a reunion tour. On the other side of things just hearing a song or album from ages ago sparks concrete memories because, I think, it is an invisible and aural experience while seeing a performance is, as said, unique for its time and place. So we’re more free to daydream, recollect, and fantasizing when listening to an old record. Hearing a Bigwig album last night for the first time in 10 years, I wanted to ask whether this music was/is any good or whether it just brings back fond memories, but those are two unrelated questions and the latter is much more interesting.
I had forgotten so much of high school until that Bigwig album; at the sound of the first note images of Collingwood Collegiate Institute came to mind. Exactly where I had my lockers, my classrooms, the alcoves and hallways where I saw a few bloody fights. More importantly, one of the first things I said when the cd started playing was not how great the band was, but that it reminded me of some of the girls I had crushes on. It reminded me that my teenage years were filled with anxiety and excitement at the slightest possibility of communicating with my crush, or holding hands, or maybe, just maybe if all the planets aligned at lunchtime, getting a little kiss.
Thinking more about it now, nothing has really changed. I’m still anxious and excited by the tiniest glance from a stranger, staying up much too late thinking about how a date might go, or worrying whether or not the sex was any good (please don’t tell me if you’re reading this and we’ve done it – unless I was excellent). In a couple years I turn thirty; it will be fun to see what songs bring back memories of my twenties and then feel all the accompanying emotions and sensations.