My new favorite live band

Battles, a four-piece from New York, show how modern technology can be combined with traditional musical chops to create an amazing live performance.

They're called Battles, they're from New York, and after seeing them live for the first time on Saturday, I believe I've heard the future.

Battles Live
Battles Live Battles

I'm not a huge fan of performances that rely heavily on turntables or samples or loops--I much prefer the interplay between musicians who are forced to pick out each note on their instruments, forced to listen and communicate and adjust almost continuously. But a lot of traditional "indie" rock bands play it safe, channeling the same dozen pop or punk influences into a predictable blend of three-to-five minute songs with verses and choruses and maybe a solo if they're feeling edgy.

Battles cross the bridge between these two worlds. On stage, their songs usually begin with a few notes played on bass or keyboards or guitar and fed into a sampler. Additional samples or loops follow, usually in slightly different time signatures or tempos, creating fascinating polyrhythms and shifting beats, like windshield wipers out of sync or a more percussive version of Steve Reich. Somehow, the drummer, John Stanier (formerly from Helmet and currently with Tomahawk, a Mike Patton metal project) always finds the seam and lays down a beat, adjusting to the tempo and shifting rhythms on the fly. The other three play looping combinations of guitar, bass, and keyboards, all while adding and subtracting and adjusting the existing samples.

Sometimes it sounds like jazz, only with fewer solos and chord changes. Sometimes it sounds like early prog-rock, Yes or King Crimson or Genesis, but without the high-flying lyrical pretentiousness. Sometimes it sounds like the Butthole Surfers (especially the vocals, which are fed through a tape echo or the digital equivalent). Sometimes it sounds like a digital drum circle.

But most of the time, it doesn't sound like anything you've heard before, but like the music your kids (or their kids) will be listening to in 20 years' time.

 

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