First an apology. We previewed Battle Ave.‘s Year of Nod back in May, and while we never forgot about it, it has taken us around two and a half months to give it the attention it deserves. Be assured that the delay has nothing to do with the quality of the music and everything to do with our failings as music listeners/writers. Be assured also that the album is great. Like, really great.
As I said last time, the band, led by Jesse Alexander and Samantha Niss, describe what they make as “dark pop”, which sounds about right to me. In fact, they have a sound which defies simple description, a great twisting amalgamation of influences and approaches creating something at once grand and strange and beautiful. The band enlisted the help of some really talented and knowledgeable people too, including producers who’ve worked with Titus Andronicus, Porches and Rivergazer, and members of LVL UP, Crying and Frankie Cosmos.
The album begins with ‘Aleph’, in which swirling atmospherics give way to drums and a repeated dream pop guitar line and the cool, almost mumbled vocals. We also get our first taste of Battle Ave.’s singular lyrics, which alternate between opaque poetry and something altogether more mystical, “see my arrows on the floor/ see my sweaters keeping me warm / I’m major arcana / I wanna kiss you on the lips and that’s the whole of it”. Next up is ‘Summer Spear’ with its early squeezebox synths and eventual blooming cacophony, a multitude of percussion and cooing vocal harmonies giving things a bright, sunny feel. ‘Lalande’ is a completely different animal – a nine minute slow-build which starts with delicate, icicle-like xylophone, before adding minimal guitar and vocals, which are joined with a female voice later on. The track eventually peaks with strings and the thumping march of a drumbeat and dual proclamations of the line “I am the empty house”. It’s almost impossible to describe, but sounds something like if Spencer Krug fronted Stars and made them raw and weird and cool. ‘In Evil Hour’ sounds quietly sad, it’s lyrics like the mythology of dreams:
“I broke my sword in two
It was always a waste of time
You are mine and the world is mine
Pitchers of fire have me dusting off my wings
I give up on the shape of things
I never loosed an arrow
Even towards the sky
They were always good friends of mine”
‘ZOA’ bursts onto the scene with it’s own tailing breeze, a seven minute slice of toe-tapping indie rock, with lyrics like inscriptions on an ancient scroll, or the messages left by some messiah in the static between the radio stations. “I am the thorn, I am orion with blue eyes forever torn, I am reason in everything”. It should also be noted that Battle Ave. are a band not afraid to bring things shuddering to a halt mid-song. Like several other tracks, ‘Zoa’ has lulls of almost silence, creating a spacious, panoramic feel. On ‘Solar Queen’ slow mumbling vocals contrast against tense and jittery instrumentation. The lyrics are wonderfully odd once more. And there’s something hopeful in the way Alexander sings “I see a light, a light, a light…” in what stands in that gap where most bands would place a chorus. Additional instruments and volume punch in around the 1:30 mark, sounding like the shifting, idiosyncratic pop of Siskiyou meets buoyant indie rock.
‘Helen (This Isn’t Meant to Offend)’ holds an aura of plain melancholy, with its sparse acoustic guitar and male/female vocals and periods of pure silence. The lyrics sound sorrowful but are also reassuring, a combination I like a lot, “Remember that you aren’t the only one / who is thought of as a train wreck / who is thought of as a hopeless cause”. ‘Seaside Girls’ has a dreamy sway and rough and tumble drums and fidgety delivery and later a blaring horn section and a martial ratatat, before it glides seamlessly into the final track, ‘Say Say Oh Enemy’ which sounds like paranoid mutterings in a silent room, desperate and feverish and slickly sweaty, the far-off instrumentation like traffic passing on the street outside the window, on another world entirely.
“Something wicked this way comes
My head is a stone
Got rid of my phone
Just leave me alone
(My heart is darkness)
I haven’t seen you in days
Who knows what moves me anyways?”
This claustrophobic atmosphere is occasionally punctuated with bursts of energy, making the track an example of the album as a whole, unpredictable and wavering, but with a continuous thread of something peculiarly beautiful and strangely affecting. I have a nagging sense that none of these words do the album justice, so do yourself a favour and get a copy and experience it yourself.