Somewhere in America, Page Hamilton is wondering what went wrong with the Helmet reunion album. Hopefully he's not wasting too much thought on it, because it's pretty obvious what went wrong: Hamilton attempted to travel backward in time, returning to the last century when America was still suffering the grunge hangover. Back then, Helmet's mechanically precise riffs and Spartan vocals sounded different, almost exotic compared to the organic generational wail of the Cornells and Cobains. Post-Limp Bizkit, it just sounds tired. Simple is the new stupid, which is the new mainstream, which no one buys because it's ubiquitous. Only stupid buys stupid, Hamilton, and stupid spent its money on the Ashlee Simpson album. Or worse, Velvet Revolver. Either way, no soup for you.
In the meantime (ha!), former Helmet drummer John Stanier (who was smart enough to skip the Helmet reunion) is on tour with Battles, a band that is mechanically precise and Spartan -- but in an intelligent way. With Stanier's punch-press drumming, the staccato guitar sting of Ian Williams (yes, from Don Caballero) and the strange percolations and stutters of composer Tyondai Braxton, Battles is the permutation of intellectual superiority and super-tight musicianship that is the opposite of stupid. That won't translate into album sales either, by the way, but twelve-minute soundscapes constructed of input-jack pop, skittery cymbal work and amp hiss are a tough sell if you're working the stupid circuit. Better to keep smart and strive for something higher than the lowest common denominator.