What Are Battles Trying To Say?


When a lead singer leaves, most bands either have to break up, hire someone who can do a passable imitation or get lucky enough to meet Mike Patton. Battles are not most bands. Well, clearly. The New York-based group owns a truly singular sound; part experimental avant-garde composition, part prog-rock complexity and several parts danceable funk.

When former vocalist Tyondai Braxton left the band after the tour for their acclaimed debut Mirrored, the remaining members (drum monster John Stainer and multi-instrumentalists Ian Williams and Dave Konopka) pressed on. The group recruited a series of guest singers, including Gary Numan,  electronic artist Matias Aguayo and Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, for their new album Gloss Drop, and have been using samples of them for the live show.

Battles were able to survive Braxton's departure because vocals were never a key part of the group's identity; most of his vocals were heavily chopped and processed until they became an unrecognizable sound, even the new guest singers' contributions get tweaked in interesting ways. It was more like losing a second guitarist than a singer, as the group uses vocalists for their feel and rhythm more than for what they are actually trying to say.

Or do they? What if Battles has a message that we can’t understand because the messenger sounds like a demented munchin playing with a tape machine? What a great loss to the world that would be! In an effort to prevent prog-funk wisdom from being lost to the world, and to help you know what a sing along with when Battles drops by Webster Hall tonight, Nonstop Sound listened close to the lyrics of five of Battles best songs to determine what the lyrics probably are. No need to thank us. (And a tip of the hat to Chuck Klosterman.)

1. “Atlas”

Discernable lyrics: “slit my throat/and make me a sandwich/oh we oh”

2. “Ice Cream”

Discernable lyrics: “you got that rose on so tight tight/you got those bulbs that glow so true/and Iago.”

3. “Ddiamondd”

Discernable lyrics: “I can tell you a story/about a Puerto Rican philistine/and a carriage/spend it like a prison.”

4. “Rainow”

Discernable lyrics: “Once/once I am empowered/the waves/actually/once/once I am empowered/the face/couldn’t explain.”

5. "My Machines"

Discernable lyrics: "listen to/the sound of/live wire/my machines/sing songs for you." (We cheated a bit, as Gary Numan is disappointingly easy to understand on this one. But, uh...hey check out that video with the guy falling down! Crazy huh?)

Battles play Webster Hall tonight at 9pm. Tickets are $25.

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