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October 12th, 2011 ROBERT HAM | Music Stories
 

Battles: Thursday, Oct. 13

After a personnel shake-up, Battles reimagines its sound.

music.box.battles_3749BATTLES - IMAGE: Jason Frank Rothenberg
     
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[CUT CHEMISTS] The last time Battles played in Portland, the band had a lot to prove. That May show was part of the first tour the post-rock group had attempted following the departure of founding member Tyondai Braxton, whose squirrely voice drove breakthrough track “Atlas.”

That sweat-drenched show and tour, as well as the eventual release of a second full-length, Gloss Drop, helped put to bed any concerns from fans of Battles. And, says guitarist-bassist Dave Konopka, it alleviated the band members’ own worries about finding their footing as a trio. Now, they can really have fun.

When Battles first started playing the new material live, the band worked to make it sound as close to the record as possible. But as members got more comfortable with their parts, “then it’s about trying to mess with them and reinterpreting things,” says Konopka, speaking from the New York band’s home base in Brooklyn.

Battles’ revisionist tendencies were evident at the band’s set at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. The trio braved the Chicago heat and soared through an hourlong performance that turned even the most familiar of its tunes inside out. Gloss Drop highlight “Futura” lapsed into something approaching acid funk; “Atlas” was daringly screwed up with what sounded like a sampled children’s choir taking the place of Braxton’s sing-songy vocal hook. 

The playfulness Battles exhibits is a testament to the band members’ abilities. Both Konopka and guitarist-keyboardist Ian Williams have logged time in jazz-influenced rock bands like Don Caballero and Lynx, earning the chops to mess around with the core of a song while borrowing the cut-and-paste freedom of electronica and hip-hop’s waxy swing. It helps, too, to have drummer John Stanier—he of the brooding intensity, the metronomic timekeeping, and the crash cymbal that sits on a 7-foot stand. 

Not that everything here is loose as can be. Gloss Drop features guest vocalists, including ’80s synth-pop icon Gary Numan, Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, and Boredoms frontman Yamantaka Eye. “We knew we didn’t want to be exclusively an instrumental band,” says Konopka. “It was just a matter of making the songs synthesize with the vocals and still make them Battles songs.”

Live, the band takes that idea a few steps further. It plays along to videos of the guest singers, but then Williams uses his laptop to stretch notes out to oblivion or chop them into rough rhythms that eventually mesh with the beat of the next track in the set.

“We always approach a live set like a good DJ set,” says Konopka. “We have to keep the momentum going.” Indeed, Battles tears through its sets so relentlessly there’s hardly time to breathe—for the band or its audience.


SEE IT: Battles plays Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Wonder Ballroom, with Walls. 9 pm. $18 advance, $20 day of show. All ages.

 
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