Battles unveils primal, robotic, bewildering lullabies to paralyze.

Smurf Attack! 

Battles unveils primal, robotic, bewildering lullabies to paralyze.

The largest, most prominent cymbal on Battles drummer John Stanier's kit stands about 7 feet high, towering over everything and everyone — Stanier, the rest of the drums, the rest of the band and the crowd staring at it. One cannot strike this cymbal nonchalantly. Stanier has to look directly at it, lean forward and reach for it. Whump.

"It's an event," Stanier explains, "an event unto itself."

"It's a cool anchor to the stage — it looks like a flag," adds Tyondai Braxton, one of Stanier's three bandmates. "The cymbal looks like the Battles' flag."

"Atlas" by Battles:

Onstage, Stanier's drums are often front and center, a placement that's both symbolic (Battles is a democracy, no one is a star, etc.) and practical — he is the focal point, and the master loop amp lurks directly behind him, burping forth the endless streams of percussive, labyrinthine, menacingly merry melodies that Braxton, Dave Konopka and Ian Williams supply, and which Stanier somehow hammers into some sort of coherent, rational shape, turning chaos into chaos theory. Whump.

In performance, the band members are intensely tuned to one another, to the point of not acknowledging the crowd at all. "I've never really been into bands that cater too much to the audience," Braxton says. "We don't want to alienate anyone — it's not about that. But it's another thing to be overly accommodating — [grating game-show-host voice] 'Heyyyy, everybody!'"

Nor, apparently, does he care for audiences that cater too much to the band. "I don't really like it when the shows get too violent," Braxton continues. "When the audience is like [boorish fratboy voice], 'Party time! Party time!' — that kinda shit isn't that cool to me."

Instead, he prefers hushed absorption — preferably seated. Williams happily recalls a gig in Japan, opening for the Mars Volta. Battles plays the first song. Silence. No crowd response. Another song. No response. So on and so on. He figures no one's into it, alas. But at set's end, suddenly there was a huge ovation, hahahhhhhhh, a deep concentration finally broken. Battles seeks to write anthems that paralyze rather than rouse.

Which brings us to "Atlas."

"Atlas" is the lead single off Mirrored, Battles' debut full-length, released this week to already hyperbolic and much-deserved acclaim. The song is hilariously terrifying. "My favorite interpretation is 'a fascist Smurf society,'" Stanier says. Indeed, there's a distinct march-of-the-Munchkins lilt to its robotically loping beat, the bleeping guitars and keyboards jostling along in sharp staccato as Braxton, his voice horrifically distorted and pitched skyward into a cyborg chipmunk whine, cheerfully sings ... something. Some cyborg-chipmunk call to arms. It's disturbing.

"Atlas" is Battles' anthem, the band's gateway drug. "If a sorority girl can get off on 'Atlas' and then come to a show and hear a song like 'TIJ,'" that's fuckin' great," Konopka says.

What's really fuckin' great is that the guys in Battles consider "Atlas" conventional — their pop concession — when, in fact, Mirrored's "TIJ," though frenzied and discordant, is only slightly more disconcerting than the alleged pop hit that will trick sorority girls into listening. "In some bizarre way, it is a pop song," Williams says of "Atlas." "Being able to access this, like, anthem, in the middle of our craziness is actually really kinda cool for our set. It's a nice place to go."

Another flag successfully planted.

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