NPR logo A Spaz-Funk Marching Band's Riot of Unpredictability

A Spaz-Funk Marching Band's Riot of Unpredictability


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The music of spaz-funk marching band Battles can sound disorienting, even maddening. hide caption

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Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "Tonto"
  • Artist: Battles
  • CD: Mirrored
  • Genre: Alt-Funk

When heard in a Las Vegas airport, the music of spaz-funk marching band Battles can sound disorienting, even maddening. Amid the pinging slot machines and the chaotic movement of distracted crowds, everything moves constantly: The tempos shift, the tones fluctuate and rhythms overlap. At times, it sounds huge, like a dozen people locked in a perfect groove. Thirty seconds later, it might seem more like one guy in a vast room, skidding between machines set too far apart, trying to trigger samples and stab a few notes out of a guitar or spit some unintelligible lyrics into a microphone on his way toward the drum machine.

Seeing Battles play live, those images of the band aren't entirely divorced from reality. The first thing that stands out about a Battles show is the fact that drummer John Stanier is situated out front; Tyondai Braxton, Ian Williams and Dave Konopka all zoom full-speed from the minute they hit the stage, manipulating enough equipment for three one-man bands. Appropriately, Stanier's cymbal is set so high, he's got to stretch skyward for each crash.

Even if Battles' live show pulls back the curtain on the record, Mirrored remains a riot of unpredictability. Four of its 11 songs stretch themes like taffy in seven-plus minutes; others rush by in less than three. "Tonto" is one of the long ones, but it wastes no time in pulling its components into a stomping climax. The song plays a little like an improv dance workout, only turned on its head — a quick storm of noise followed by a slow, circling fade so deliberate, you can almost feel your heart rate drop. It's a measure of the band's inventiveness that they can maintain tension as the song drifts apart, every pinging guitar and echoing synth a confounded expectation.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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