I avoided this album for way too long. I'm not sure if it was all the hype surrounding Battles, my disdain for the buzz-genre "post-rock," or some ill-conceived notion that all music without a barefaced manifesto was self-serving, but I kept putting off listening to this until its mini-review penned by one of my colleagues left it no longer possible to ignore:
Glitchy post-rock with lots of blips, bleeps, and treated vocals --on the surface, it's what you'd expect from a rock band on Warp. Beneath, however, is an incredibly intelligent rock album -- traces of glam, drum'n'bass, jazz, and punk. Most bands talk about changing music -- Battles just did it.
I initially thought this was probably a hefty overstatement -- and it still may be -- but holy snazzy musicianship, Batman, these guys are good. And what's even more impressive is that the complexity and technicality of their music rarely, if ever, sacrifices the idea that music should still be fun and enjoyable. While a retrospective glance back at Battles' earlier discography would have to acknowledge several occasions of impairment at the hands of "art for art's sake," Mirrored steers clear almost entirely of such pitfalls. Not only is the new dimension of moderately heavy use of vocals added to the mix, the music itself seems more focused, not meandering so much but progressing as if it itself has a purpose.
The telling titles of "Race: In" and "Race: Out" that open and close the album respectively bare reflection of the incredibly developed thematics of songwriting on Mirrored. With members from as diverse associated acts as Helmet, Emery, Don Caballero, Lynx and Tomahawk, the music runs the gamut from songs with a more hard-hitting, straight-ahead approach to atmospheric drifts that somehow keep the listener pulled in through tight control of silent rhythm and ethereal sounds. The album's highlights range from those that start slowly with a meager foundation and build to orgasmic crescendos ("Atlas") to those that burst from the very beginning with otherworldly mastery of the instruments ("Ddiamondd"). There are also those that seem to bubble modestly below the perceived expectation -- that is, until you go back and listen for a second time, noticing all that was missed upon first listen.
So does Battles have a message in their music? Yeah, it's that the best part about music is you can do whatever you want with it. Want to make a nearly flawless album and sway even the most stubborn of punk critics in the process? All the power to you -- the score speaks for itself.