Math + rock = electrophoria

Battles attempts to out-‘Helter Skelter’ us with jams that really bring on the blisters.

Becky Lang

Tired of the handclaps and cowbells increasingly stuck into indie tracks? Do you skim your iTunes with your chin in your hand and sigh, thinking that your collection just isn’t freaky enough these days?

Or maybe that’s just me. But Battles, a “math rock” electronica unit of New York-based musicians, are banging their drums in a field far away from normal, enough so that defining them as a cross between the so-and-so’s and the blank-and-blanks is impossible.

On “Mirrored,” their latest LP, Battles avoids the pitfall of many electronica albums by commanding a guru-like hold over rhythmic build-up, so an eight minute-long song never leaves you feeling like you’re suffering just to get to “the good part.” Instead, the songs patch traditional instruments together to sound like a fun house of helium-voiced creatures banging on wine glasses at 80 miles per hour. “Atlas” is one of the best tracks, with the bounce of a ball-pit on the loose, creating videogame-reminiscent music that would make Kirby get his freak on with Pikachu.

Although the touring band was busy riding through the fire-torn part of San Diego, they managed to have a brief chat with A & E about the trials of touring and the tasks of keeping music interesting for the sake of the future.

Do you guys have any on-the-road rituals?

You mean like the Lord’s Prayer before we go on? No, not really, come to think of it. Two of us have gotten really into hackey sack, but that’s only half the band. That doesn’t exactly count as a band ritual, even though they think the other half should get into it.

Does your band ever have jam sessions? What’s the setup like?

No. We never play anything completely out of the blue. There are a couple of ideas that we’ll try out, but never just totally off the cuff. There’s a lot of bells and whistles and stuff, but there’s no pre-programmed loops or samples.

What’s the strangest instrument you guys have been working with lately?

Probably just pedals. It’s pretty normal rock stuff – bass guitar, keyboards – no didgeridoos or timbes or anything.

Both you and Animal Collective seem to be creating structures that are pointedly different from modern music. What do you think artists in this decade should do to make music that people haven’t already heard before?

Is that even possible? I think you have heard this before, but you just may not realize it. All it is a different combination of the same old instrument. We didn’t invent some new note that was never around; we’re still using a guitar, but combining elements in a different way. And it comes out being new.

In the early ’60s, when rock first came, it was a really big deal, and that had never been done before. But now in 2007, there is no more “new.” I’m not saying everything’s been done, but to a certain aspect it has. At this point, it’s all about combination.