(OK, I know I sound like someone who’s reaching to justify compulsive behavior, and that’s because I am. But I swear I have a point.)
“Unique” is an abused word. It’s not quite in the same red headed stepchild territory that “like” and “literally” occupy (full disclosure — I’m doing some serious glass-house stone throwing right now, being both a card-carrying abuser of “like” and “literally” AND a red head), but “unique” finds itself being used to describe music far too often by my count, and I generally try to steer clear of it. But after seeing M. Ward perform at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. two Sundays ago, I can’t help believing that he stands apart from the rest of the musical landscape in ways that feel totally deserving of the word. Two of these ways were espcially striking…
What do the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan and proggy math rock have in common? For starters, they’re both wild places where seemingly anything can happen. They’re also both extremely rocky (sorry, I had to). Most importantly, they share an essential quality that largely defines them: inaccessibility. Just as the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan wouldn’t be so wild if it wasn’t a remote, mountainous deathtrap for invading armies, experimental rock wouldn’t be experimental if it didn’t push the envelope of what is conventionally considered possible and palatable. Avid enthusiasts of complex, time signature-shredding music may say, “Hell yeah! That’s the best part!”, but for bands who aim to make a good living playing this type of music, it seems like a tough line to walk. How do you keep pushing the envelope without pushing people away? How???
I had the pleasure of seeing that question asked and successfully answered when Battles performed at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. this past Sunday night. Battles is a very special band, boasting outsized doses of creativity, musicianship and precision, as well as one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen (please put seeing John Stanier in person on your musical bucket list — he’s nothing short of otherworldly), all of which help them construct songs that are unique and intellectually challenging. Think musical abstract (but not too abstract) painting. But throughout Sunday’s show, it became more and more evident that the band has a special knack for connecting with their audience, as well.