Anyone who crammed into Gooski's recently to see Don Cab alum Ian Williams play with Battles has probably heard these songs already, though not like this: in the crystal-clear stereo of the gods. From the glossy production to the inventive packaging, Mirrored is awfully slick.
Which is odd, considering that what's most noticeable about it is that, with the exception of some atmospheric textures on tracks like "Bad Trails," every instrument is a rhythm instrument. Every note seems locked into some pointillistic, polyrhythmic groove; even a sharp intake of breath can become a song's main pulse, as on the intro to "Tij."
In such context, John Stanier's drums are naturally the meat of the record, whether they're rocking full-on or just percolating, whether chopped, sampled, gated or ... not even there at all. While Stanier's playing is necessarily busy on Mirrored, it sounds hard and heavy, never fey or showoffy -- "Race: Out" hits like a Bonham beat. Atop all the rhythmic punctuation -- drums, bass and guitar -- there's the occasional shard of naïve melody, like Tyondai Braxton's processed munchkin vocals on the single "Atlas."
The only times Battles runs into trouble on Mirrored is when the band fails to outsmart itself and ends up sounding a bit foolishly proggy. Braxton's vocals are an interesting element (especially when he does contrapuntal vocal figures a la Jon Anderson), but by the end of the CD, the pitch-shifting is as stale as any hip-hop sample. Similarly Yes-like, the loosely classical rock-organ noodling in "Rainbow" sounds an awful lot like something nicked from Rick Wakeman, or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. And not in a good way, really.
Call it math rock if you must, but Battles' Mirrored sounds like nothing so much as a multi-voiced percussion ensemble -- a rock 'n' roll drum corps.