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

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Empowering Your New iPod: A Guide for Converting Videos for Your iPod or iPhone

As soon as I saw the screen on the iPod Touch, I instantly knew its destiny as a video destination for me. Roughly half the space of my iPod is taken up by videos. They’re great for long rides or when I get stuck waiting somewhere unexpectedly. Before I launch into my tutorial, I will mention that I have found episodic content to be a better pairing with the iPod than movies. Converting videos for your iPod is quite simple due to a free tool named Handbrake which works for Macs as well as Windows. I will also mention that the iTunes store has many TV shows and movies which you can download, and they will all work with your iPod without hassle. This guide is for other videos you legally (or not so legally) obtain which you’d like to add to your iPod.

If the video you want to put on your iPod is on a DVD, you first need to get the file onto your computer (skip to next paragraph if the file is already on your computer). Commercial DVDs are encrypted, and breaking the encryption is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the USA, and not something I recommend you do for the obvious legal and ethical reasons. With that said, there is an extremely easy to use Windows program called DVDFab HD Decryptor which will allow you to copy a DVD to your hard drive. If you need help with DVDFab HD Decryptor, there is a guide here. If you are using Mac OS X, Handbrake can handle the decryption for you.

Once the windows users have the files on their computer (obviously needing to be more complicated than their Mac counterpart) open up Handbrake. In the source box, browse to the file or folder with the video and select it. Handbrake can handle a wide variety of input formats. Next, under source, click on the Titles drop down and manually select the video you want to convert. If you leave it set on automatic, there is a chance Handbrake will choose the wrong title. Next, under Destination, click browse, and select where you want to save the new video stream, and type in a file name. Under “Save as,” select m4v. Now here’s the critical part, on the right side under presets, click “iPhone/iPod Touch” or another iPod option depending on what you have. Under output settings, the encoder should be set as H.264 and the Audio Encoder as AAC. Make sure “Insert iPod Atom” is selected. That’s it! Now all you have to do is click start and give your computer some time to crunch away. There are a million tweaks you can make with Handbrake, including using a queue to convert many files at once, so feel free to explore once you get comfortable.

When Handbrake is finished creating the file, open up iTunes, go to File, Add File to iTunes, and select the file you just created ending in .m4v. The video should now show up under movies in iTunes. Now plug in your iPod. Once iTunes has loaded it, select your iPod from within iTunes. Go to the movies tab under your iPod’s properties within iTunes, and tell iTunes to either sink all your videos, or just the one you created. Voila! Next time you sync your iPod, you should have your video on your shiny device to take with you anywhere.

-Jewbin

Apple’s Big Announcement

Rich Electronics
For those of you who haven’t heard yet, Apple made their newest big announcement which has caused 4 different people in a 24 hour period to ask me if I felt cheated by apple. I first heard the news from my friend Danny, who called presumably to gloat about the fact that 3 weeks ago I paid $600 for my iPhone and now they only cost $400. My initial reaction was of course anger. I could see my Dad sitting with his bowl of cereal and newspaper shaking his head thinking – my stupid son has wasted more money. When I went to Apple’s site my $200 angst flittered away on the wind. First off, along with the $200 price drop on the iPhone they’ve also announced the first big update: The iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. Now with a simple tap of my finger I can download songs from iTunes wherever I am – wonderful news. They’ve also announced the iPod Touch. I used to sit around and think about what Apple could do to make me and the masses all buy a new iPod even though we all already have one. I used to think it was reducing the physical size while adding more digital size, but I was wrong. It’s all in the interface. At the heart of all good Apple products is a simple, easy to use interface that is so sweet that it gives nerds chills, makes women say “oooh yea, that’s nice” and summons a deep desire within all of us to want to play. Check out a guided tour of the new iPod Touch if you haven’t seen it yet –

http://www.apple.com/ipodtouch

I’ll never need another iPod again thanks to the phone, but for those of you who aren’t planning on an iPhone, I expect to see you all enjoying your new iPods to the max. Apple’s stock price has been dropping pretty drastically over the past week, down from 146 to 134. Two days ago my financial father advised me to sell a pretty serious chunk of my holdings in Apple if it hit 150 again. Despite mediocre iPhone sales compared to expectations I really do believe in the products. When people see I have an iPhone they say one of two things: #1. “Can I play with it?” or something similar to #2. “I heard some company in (insert random Asian country here) has made a knock off that’s much better and cheaper.” To all the #2 people: You guys are all full of shit. You haven’t seen the knockoff, you’ve read something about it on the internet and I’m willing to bet it’s not anywhere near as perfect of a product as the iPhone. Don’t take your bitterness about not having an iPhone of your own out on me. To my father fretting over my $200 mistake, I’m quite confident that loss pales to the profits I’ll see from the stock in the coming years and I’d say it’s about time you bought some Apple for yourself in this mini slump because they truly are paving the way to the future one electronic device at a time. To all those on the fence about getting an iPhone I have these words of wisdom. AT&T’s service is not as good as Verizon’s but I have high hopes that it’ll improve over time. There will never be a better item to take with you into the bathroom. You can read the news, check your emails, respond to your emails, browse the web, all while listening to some smooth jazz. Thats right, I like listening to smooth jazz while I squeeze one out. The iPhone is damn near perfect and after two weeks of learning its ins and outs you will not be disappointed, especially with the new $400 price tag.

Later in the day Steve Jobs posted this:
www.apple.com/hotnews/openiphoneletter

– Rich

Published in: on September 6, 2007 at 9:46 am  Comments (2)  
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