[Archive] The Triumphant Return of Post-Rock – Battles – Mirrored / 65DaysOfStatic – The Destruction of Small Ideas

Battles – Mirrored (Warp 2007)
65DaysOfStatic – The Destruction Of Small Ideas (Monotreme 2007)

We thought we’d seen the last of it. meta-Phrygian scales, time signatures based on Fermat’s last theorem, nose-harps played by people who treat their music as a “job, not a joke”… Yes it’s time once again to grow out that goatee and feel the very loud bits followed by very quiet bits followed by even louder bits. Why? Because Post-Rock is back back back you guys…! Exciting huh? Okay, maybe not but please don’t go back to your Killers albums just yet.

So we all thought we’d seen the last of this juggernaut – last seen heading down the motorway in 2001 as a carrier for half-baked ideas, 20-minute track lengths and a lot of sitting around waiting for something to actually HAPPEN. But now those bloody boffins have built another machine, and this time it’s not so much a bulky old freight-carrier, more a stunt-show monster truck with crushing alloy wheels, jump-friendly suspension and an engine that’s ready to go from 0-60 in a matter of seconds.

A Top-Trumps-level of lorry metaphors aside, the reason Post-Rock died at the turn of the century is simple – it lacked FUN. Even back then only the biggest party pooper would have brought along a copy of Slow Riot For New Zer0 Kanada to a social gathering unless his aim was to get everyone to leave or fall asleep.

Mirrored, the debut album by Battles, on the other hand sounds like an illegal rave for mad professors. Yes the crazy time signatures are still there but boy are they bouncy. Gone are the endlessly predictable build-ups of yesteryear to be replaced by instant energy in a can. Beats collide into riffs and then career off of basslines as if the band were trapped in some kind of enormous pinball machine. It helps that the majority of band members are old hands in the hard rock scene (Battles comprising members of Post-Hardcore legends Don Caballero and Helmet), giving the music a vivacious energy that stops it from ever sounding wimpy or, god-forbid, boring.

Battles - Mirrored

Even the eerie chipmunk effect that the band have decided to put over band leader Tyondai Braxton’s vocals start to make sense after the third listen. Battles are much more than just Tortoise for a Punk generation. Ideas are seemingly thrown into the mix at random; time signatures change at a dizzying frequency; and instruments duel each other in a play for space. Lead single, ‘Atlas’ is a Smurfing sea shanty for German Techno fans; ‘Leyendecker’ treats us to super-futuristic Timbaland-style R’n’B thrown through a liquidiser on high-setting; and the awesome closer, ‘Race Out’ sounds like Autechre trying to recreate the Duelling Banjos theme.

On the other side of the (ahem) “Nu-Post” spectrum lies the third offering from Sheffield’s own 65DaysOfStatic. Here we see the band pressing on with their previous groundwork – an admirable attempt at fusing Squarepusher-style beat chicanery with the guitar squall of Mogwai and the like. Here however is where the boys have truly blossomed from Post-Rock chancers to true pioneers of their craft. Whereas before it could have been argued that 65DOS were late to the table in trying to hybridise the sound of two acts that are quite clearly past their peak, there is no doubt here that endless touring has whipped them into a first class British act. Gone are the whiffs of tokenism that may have hindered them in the past, to be replaced by the sound of an act who have surpassed their influences, creating a sound that is truly their own. The synthetic drill’n’bass drumming of previous albums has been downplayed, which can only be a good thing since they clearly possess one of the best new drummers working in music today – and that’s no hyperbole on my part. Catch 65DOS live and you will see that every member puts as much perspiration into his playing as a road-worker into his shovel on a hot day in July.

65DaysOf Static
There’s a lot to be said for the much-mooted production values on The Destruction Of Small Ideas. The inner sleeve urges the listener to turn up the volume, and I cannot stress the importance of this advice. This is no “piss your neighbours off in the name of RAWK” posturing. In fact listening to this album at a regular volume simply won’t do it any justice at all. Crank up the knob on your stereo and suddenly it all makes sense. Clearly a great deal of effort has been put into sound dynamics, musical detail, and a certain nuance that is both refreshing and exhilarating in this age of overcompression and pointless distortion. And no, taking the volume up to eleven won’t get Mrs Atkinson from downstairs reaching for her broom-handle. Even if this is, after-all, a heavy rock album it won’t have the windows rattling due to its subtle use of dynamic range. Sound engineers take heed – in the future, all records will be mixed this way!

The other great thing about this record is the way each track manages to throw a new idea into the mix. Seasoned fans may initially be tempted to write-off the first two tracks as a retread of old ground. Crazy drums? Check! Noisy guitars? Check! Big build ups? Check, check, check! But there’s something more going on even at this point in the album. Everything seems that much tighter and realer than before. No more relying on ancient Warp-style beats for a start, and there’s a level of melody that we simply haven’t ever before heard from the band.

But it’s by the second half that 65DOS truly come into their own. Breaking free from the guitar noise altitudes which they are no-doubt fond of makes a refreshing and smart change. The transition is heralded by the relatively short ‘Lyonesse’ which starts as a funereal piano ambience and is slowly drowned out by a clamour of scattershot drums and booming rifle noises. ‘Music Is Music As Kisses Are Kisses’ is slower in tempo and matches neat cyclical guitar lines with their distinct piano sound. There’s almost a jazz flavour going on here, proving that 65DaysOfStatic aren’t just about the big build-ups and breakdowns.

A definitely highlight comes in the form of the interestingly-titled ‘Distant & Mechanised Glow Of Eastern European Dance Parties’. Perhaps the closest the band has come to fusing the worlds of Rock and Electronica, a squirling, guitar freakout seamlessly gives way to a groovy Electro beat, then like a magic trick the next track ‘Little Victories’ fades into view.

Back in 2001, 65DaysOfStatic could have been written off as an interesting and well-meant experiment that came along just a little too late and would probably vanish once its audience turned to some other new sound. All those conceptions are handsomely blown out the water on this album. The band have proven here that they’re far more than a mere flash-in-the-pan – they were waiting for their time all along and their time is now. No more gestating, The Destruction Of Small Ideas lives up to its name and shows that Britain is still capable of making exciting and intelligent music.

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