Review Summary: "Mirrored" is one of the best albums of 2007, and while the sound may not be for everyone, if you can get into this, you realize that music truly has endless possibilities.
Before, when listening to bands such as Don Caballero
that are typically characterized as "math rock", I could never really get into the music. Sure the technical skill was miles beyond 90% of bands, but to me the music seemed to lack focus, and I felt somewhat bored by it. To me, that overshadowed any of Ian Williams' riffs or Zach Hill's ridiculous skill.
This is where Battles comes in. When you hear that Battles is made up of two guitarists known for their math rock work (the aforementioned Williams, and Dave Konopka), a drummer with a metal background (John Stanier), and a multi-instrumentalist/vocalist whose influences can be described no better than simply "weird" (Tyondai Braxton), there's a good chance this band will bring something new to the table. On "Mirrored" their debut full-length, they not only bring something new to rock in general, but all of music itself. Once you get past the fact that this is likely one of the most unique bands you've ever heard, you're then floored by the amount of technical skill on display. What sets Battles apart is that no riff seems unimportant, and almost all the time, the songs are very clear in their direction. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that "Mirrored" is more of a collaborative effort; every member is as integral as the other, and it seems that no instrument is given more importance (this includes vocals, which are so cleverly placed only where they are necessary), something that is reflected in the production and mixing. However, while they may try not to put emphasis on any one instrument, I need to take a moment and point out that to the listener that it may be hard to focus on anything other than John Stanier's unbelievable drum work. His precision and ridiculous skill is worth a listen to the album alone just to be blown away when you here things like you do on songs such as the lobotomizing "Tij". If you don't like complex time signatures or odd, disorienting sounds, don't even think about listening to this album.
The name "Mirrored" is perfectly representative of not only the extremely precise nature of Battles' music, but also of the listening experience of the album itself. The songs are mirrored off each other around "Rainbow", the longest track, and centrepiece of the album. This is easily seen in the first and last tracks, "Race: In" and "Race: Out". "Race: In" serves as a great introduction to the sound of Battles, while building up to what I feel is the first true "song" of the album, the highly impressive "Atlas". At the other end, "Race: Out" serves as an epilogue to the downright assault of "Tij", with the album ending on a simple fade out, suggesting that Battles is actually just getting started.
There are some downsides, notably track 7, "Bad Trails", which seems to run a bit long, and has some of the qualities that turned me off bands like Don Caballero and Hella. Additionally, while this is undoubtedly a fantastic album, it can be a bit much to take at times. These songs are so very complex, so very loud, that there are times where listening to songs like "Tij" is just too mindblowing and mentally draining (seriously, listen to the section beginning at 4:20, if that doesn't make your head hurt, I don't know what to say).
That being said, "Mirrored" is one of the most impressive debuts I've heard and what makes it so memorable is its confidence in challenging all the notions of what rock music is supposed to sound like. When you look at the album cover, you might think of how cold, technical, and unemotional the music within might sound. To me, the cover evokes images of four normal guys with completely different musical backgrounds daring to do something completely unique, and having an unbelievable amount of fun playing with their instruments and electronics, doing something that they all love.