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Battles Creates a Musical Hall of Mirrors

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Battles Creates a Musical Hall of Mirrors

Battles Creates a Musical Hall of Mirrors

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The debut CD from a Brooklyn band called Battles is turning out to be one of the year's critical favorites. Battles is an unusual, mostly instrumental rock group.

Will Hermes has a review of their album "Mirrored."

(Soundbite of song "Ddiamondd")

WILL HERMES: I'd been hearing about Battles for a while. Last year, their Brooklyn neighbors and the group TV on the Radio - who made what I thought was the best rock record of 2006 - were talking them up in interviews. I'd even heard David Bowie was a Battles fan. Not bad for a group that didn't even have a full-length record out yet.

(Soundbite of song "Ddiamondd")

HERMES: I saw Battles play a sold-out gig at New York City's Bowery Ballroom, and they killed it. Although as rock shows go, it was admittedly a little strange. Most of the songs had no vocals, although occasionally, from behind his keyboard rack, Tyondai Braxton would shout or chant phrases into a microphone, which was run through pitch shifters and other devices so his vocals came out sounding something like this.

(Soundbite of song, "Atlas")

HERMES: Battles look like the normal quartet. There's a drummer and a bassist who sometimes plays guitar. But there are some subtle differences. The other two guys play both guitars and keyboards, and often at the same time, with a technique that involves tapping the strings of their guitar fretboards with one hand while fingering their keyboards with the other. They also use digital looping devices, so a player can record a guitar phrase, say, loop it back, and then play a different guitar line over it. So suddenly, four musicians become five, six, seven, 15, 27.

(Soundbite of music)

HERMES: Being a geek about this stuff, I could tell you about how Battles construct their songs by stitching together little segments that they give absurd names to, like Burkina Faso or Joey Buttafuoco. Or I could tell you that Tyondai Braxton is the son of the great renegade jazz composer Anthony Braxton. Or I could tell you that some of the members dig old '70s prog rockers like Yes and Rush and King Crimson, groups that - after being considered uncool for years - are now honorable indie-rock touchstones.

HERMES: But judging from the crowd at the Bowery Ballroom in April, you clearly don't need to be a geek to appreciate Battles. I mean, normal-looking people were actually dancing to this music. Me, I'd rather dance to house music. But for all their geekiness, these guys rock, and they do it in a way that really doesn't sound much like anyone else.

The cover of their new CD is a kind of musical hall of mirrors. And I think that's a pretty apt metaphor for their sound.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: The latest CD from Battles is called "Mirror." Our reviewer is Will Hermes. You can hear songs from the CD and discover more new music at npr.org/music.

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