Battles: The Greatest Band on the Planet

It’s a tough time to be a rock band right now. The whole garage revival thing that was all the rage around 2000 has pretty much died down as more and more musicians realize there’s more to it than putting a plural noun after the word “The” and calling yourself a band. The Internet has made it so any Joe Schmo with a computer and a cord can record an album and sell it to the world on iTunes, but there’s so much of it out there, it’s damn near impossible to sort out what’s really the best (unless Apple does it for you in a TV commercial). Oh, and Battles is around, so every other band in the world has to live up to their new standard. Because Battles is the greatest band on the planet.

Are the members of Battles the world’s most technically skilled musicians? Probably not. Does Battles make the best music on Earth? I love their tunes, but I couldn’t argue that their songwriting itself is the absolute BEST, nope. But as a band, a group, a collective, four individuals musically congealed into a single, breathing, siamise-like thinking unit, they are THE greatest, the #1, with very little doubt. In fact, no doubt. Battles is the greatest band on the planet.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you haven’t even heard of them (which is likely, and I recognize and respect that.. “Best instrumental math-rock group” isn’t exactly its own Grammy category yet), Battles is something of an indie / prog supergroup, a quartet consisting of members of other moderately well-known (but no less super) groups called Don Caballero, Lynx and, perhaps most notably, Helmet. (Remember “Unsung”??? You would if you heard it, trust me. Youtube that shit.) On the surface, their music is a mixture of complex rhythms, wacky time signatures, machinery-like sounds, strange but impressive unison riffs, something that I guess you could classify as “abstract vocals”… and more… all held together by eight good ears, a brilliant sense of structure, and, sometimes, believe it or not, a hook!

Those are a lot of adjectives, and nouns I turned into adjectives, but I think what it all means, basically, is you have to hear/see it to understand. Listen to 2007’s “Mirrored” (best album of last year) and you might have a better understanding.

Better, yes, but not complete. For the techies out there, it gets even better. One look at the album art from the aforementioned disc and you’ll see that Battles take quite a bit of pride in their gear — all their guitars, keyboards, amps, pedals and other fun stuff — most likely because it’s so fundamental to the sound they create. But unlike some of these other literally “electronic” artists with cool gear out there, Battles create everything live, with some nasty tricks up their sleeves. A few strums on some strings, a few pushes of some buttons, and they’ve crafted a perfectly timed, perfectly looped guitar riff; seconds later, that one simple loop has turned into another, and then suddenly it has become loops upon loops, a sonic casserole of rhythmic layers and, lo and behold, an entire song. Add some quirky melodies over that, some computer-like drum beats, some wacked out, modified singing, and you have the Battles sound, robot music created by four real guys on the spot. It’s electronic, no doubt, but it is real. It is human.

So what, specifically, would I say qualifies them for the honor of GBOTP?

  • No one else could recreate their music. Even with all the same amount of practice, the same exact gear, and an obsessive knowledge of their songs, it would be really, really freaking impossible to make it sound exactly like a true Battles recording and/or show. I have a pretty decent comprehension of music, technology, pedals, etc., and I gotta say, I can only explain to you what it is that Battles does… maybe, MAYBE 60 percent of the time. That is true individuality. Not just anyone can create that.
  • They DO IT LIVE!!! (to use the Bill O’Reilly terminology), and they pull it off. It would be too easy for Battles to drown in a diluted sea of “laptop DJs” that use software and a few mouse clicks to pull up stored sound at the same tempos and create “live” songs from saved samples. Battles is the greatest BAND on the planet because, in spite of the fact that their songs often come off sounding like some kind of processed, heavily produced, 64-track MIDI recording, they create it all live on the spot, as individuals, with strings, keys, skins, and one really tall crash cymbal (no really, look up some pictures). No pre-saved samples. Each member has specific parts, and he just nails them all. And it’s all created right then and there.
  • What they play is borderline impossible to accomplish. This is kind of a mix of those first two points. I’ve tried basic looping on a small scale. It’s tough to keep it going for more than 8 measures before it sounds like a garbled mess of 6-year-olds at their first music lesson. Battles can make it sound perfect and deliberate for entire songs. Hell, entire SHOWS. You need to have absolutely pristine and precise tempo control to lock together like they do. That’s tough for one person. Very difficult for two people. Near impossible for three. Four? Well, Battles can, can you? No.
  • It’s the future, now. It has to be. In the same way that Radiohead recently invented a whole new genre of music that can really only be described as “sounds like Radiohead,” so might it go with Battles over the next few years . Because anyone who goes and sees them will eagerly want to return home, plug in a Gibson Echoplex loop pedal, and create the next year’s greatest album. It’s fun, it’s impressive, and it sounds great.

Look, there’s lots of good stuff out there. Plenty of awesome rock groups are drawing thousands of fans every night, making great music in cities across the globe. But Battles are doing something so totally different, so totally advanced, and so totally untouchable, it would be tough to argue that any other band on the scene is as tightly “banded” together as they are. See comments above about Battles being the future of music, and consider how good of an idea it would be to see them now, before they blow up and the only venue you can see them in is a multi-thousand capacity outdoor lunatheater on the Moon (where they will still be the greatest band on the planet).

– Paul

Flight of the Conchords & Giving Up The Ghost Get The Trifecta Bump

Welcome to another Trifecta musical update. It’s time to break out the booty wax, its Wednesday night.

The new Conchords album hit the street this week and I’ve listened to it quite a few times since I downloaded it from itunes at 11:01 pm central time Monday night. Despite being a “new” album, there are no new songs to be heard here, instead there are nice studio versions of the songs we die hard Conchords fans have come to know and love. About half of the songs on the album won’t sound too different at all from their HBO show counterparts, but the other half sound significantly better with Inner City Pressure, Robots, Most Beautiful Girl in the Room and Bowie leading the pack. And let me tell you, Motha’uckas brings the funk like never before. This is without a doubt the definitive Flight of the Conchords audio collection to date, and I’ll enjoy it immensely, but I’m about ready for some new material from my favorite New Zealand two man novelty band. You can listen to the album in its entirety here. Apparently there’s a new season of the HBO show coming in January 2009, not too far away.

You may or may not have heard of my new favorite old soul singer / song writer but I’m here to let you know that his newest album, Giving up the Ghost, certainly deserves your attention. On October 2nd 2007 I attended a Phil Lesh & Friends show expecting to see Warren Haynes or Jimmy Herring on the right of Phil but was instead surprised to see a very young, but clearly talented musician sitting in with the older crew. About 30 minutes into the show I had made up my mind that this was Phil Lesh’s teenage son, and decided to voice my opinion but was quickly corrected by the hippy to my left who informed us that this was the one and only Jackie Greene. He has toured with the likes of B.B. King, Huey Lewis, Susan Tedeschi, Buddy Guy, and is now a permanent touring member of Phil Lesh and Friends, and get this, he’s only 27 years old. The concert left Jackie’s song Gone Wanderin’ embedded in my head on repeat so I bought his album The Dig Years, a collection of his best from 2001 to 2005. While the Dig Years is a little too country for me to give the ubiquitous Trifecta stamp to, his newest studio effort should be greatly enjoyed by all The Trifecta faithful. Jackie certainly has a sound all his own, singing with grit and grunge that I would expect from a man twice his age. Giving up the Ghost infuses jazz, blues, rock and country into an album that sounds familiar yet fresh at the same time. For all you out there who respond to the question “What kind of music do you listen to?” with the stock answer of “Everything but country,” Jackie Greene might make you think twice before you pull out that crap again. You can listen to some tracks on Jackie’s website here. Enjoy the tunes.

– Rich

It’s a Very Musical Monday: Sticks & Stones, Warpaint and a Conchords Update!

rich media
If you read the title of this article you’ll notice that it rhymes; that’s because it’s a musical update Snucka! Today I’ll be discussing three albums which should all be on your radar. Let’s jump right in.

sticks

Sticks & Stones is the latest studio effort from the five headed jam band behemoth moe. Their previous two albums Wormwood and The Conch are both in my personal top 20 favorite studio albums of all time. Both Wormwood and The Conch used a combination of live jams with studio overlays to really capture the live aspect of moe, while maintaining the high quality audio expected from a studio album. While I can certainly wholeheartedly recommend both of these albums to jam band familiars it wasn’t until this latest album that I could recommend one of their records to the masses. Unlike previous moe efforts Sticks & Stones consists of new songs that have never been played live and don’t have lengthy jam sessions embedded within them. The result is a mellow, yet powerful CD that can be enjoyed by a larger spectrum of people with various musical tastes. You can listen to a couple tracks off the album for free at www.moe.org just to get a taste.

warpaint

After some break ups, some solo projects and a reunion tour, The Black Crowes are releasing their first studio album in 7 years. Warpaint is being released tomorrow, March 4th, and even as I write this my body is tingling with excitement. Poor Chris Robinson (lead singer of The Black Crowes) has been dumped by his former movie star wife Kate Hudson (I still think of her as Penny Lane from Almost Famous) for Owen Wilson. I definitely get it; Owens got washboard abs, hilarity and is an extremely fine actor, but come on. Chris Robinson is a rock legend, and I always thought that was the sweetest part about Kate Hudson; she digs music. Now she’s just a member of another standard Hollywood couple who will have ridiculously good looking children. Weak sauce. Thankfully Chris and Kate managed to have a child together who will no doubt be good looking and talented. Anyway… back to the album. I haven’t heard more than 2 songs so I can’t actually review the album, although apparently some douche-bag from a much more reputable news source than The Trifecta (cough… cough… Maxim) did exactly that. Said douche has since apologized but apparently the Crowes rejected his apology, which I think is an appropriate response. We can all make up our own minds when we listen to the entire album tomorrow Maxim. If you love rock and roll I’d suggest giving these boys a chance, because no one rocks it quite like The Black Crowes do.

conchords

It’s been a while since we’ve had a Conchords update but now that there’s some concrete info to report, Rich Siegel: Media Man is on it. Their EP, The Distant Future, has won the Grammy for best comedy album of the year and their full length studio album is being released in the states on April 22nd (the album cover is pictured above). As for a second helping of the HBO show there have apparently been some delays reportedly due to the writers’ strike, although I have an inkling that is just a convenient cover up to the real problem which is that the Conchords have to write all new songs for the new season. They used up their entire back catalog that took them years to write for season 1. Either way, HBO says we can expect a new season in the beginning of 2009, so keep your fingers crossed Conchords fans.

– Rich