Listening to Battles is like plugging into the mainframe of some futuristic generator. You are instantly pulled into this stream-of-consciousness robot groove that acts as some sort of virtual yellow brick road to meet the fantastical Oz. But Oz isn’t some little man that flew in on a hot air balloon. No, Oz is this Voltron-like entity powering the Tron-like land with electro groove and synthetic soul. On their newest record La Di Da Di the band has gone full-on instrumental and I think this was a wise choice. It makes you focus on just how great of musicians these guys really are.
So for those that don’t know, Battles started as a four-piece, with multi-instrumentalist and singer Tyondai Braxton. They recorded several EPs and their full-length debut Mirrored with Braxton. After that the band became a trio(after Braxton left) and recorded Gloss Drop with several guest singers and musicians. While that album was immense and had the feel of a sugar buzz that lasted an hour, at times it felt the special guests took more of the spotlight than guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams, guitarist/bassist Dave Konopka, and drummer John Stanier. With La Di Da Di, that’s not a problem. The album buzzes and flows flawlessly without the aid of guest singers. In a way, this is their most compelling long player to date. This album highlights the complex compositions and textured atmosphere these guys create quite beautifully. This is dance rock, post rock, art rock, and pretty much any other rock you want to throw at it.
“The Yabba” sneaks in the room under the crack in the door like a mysterious light emanating from another dimension. It feels like an alien language, but one that’s pleasant to hear. You don’t quite understand where it comes from or how these sounds are structured in our universe, but that’s okay. While Williams and Konopka create these skronky neo-futuristic noises, John Stanier grounds the proceedings in some stellar, muscular drumming. It’s best of both worlds, really. You get “out there” intergalactic jams, with the drumming precision of Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, and John Bonham all rolled into one Mr. Stanier. “Dot Net” rides on a synth/drum lock step that is as airtight as an astronaut’s suit. “Summer Simmer” has the vibe of an intergalactic Rastafarian. This is island music if the island was located on Mars. “Cacio e Pepe” starts out a bit like Boards of Canada being overtaken by Cluster. It’s light and spacious as far as Battles is concerned. “Non-Violence” is big and ominous. Sort of the prototypical Battles jam, but with what feels like more of a musical narrative.
This record flows flawlessly from start to finish. There isn’t a moment of lull here, but you never feel overwhelmed or weighted down. “Dot Com”, “Tricentennial”, and “Megatouch” are all self-contained epics. “Luu Le” sputters and spits into an almost triumphant march that ends the album beautifully. You get the feeling listening to La Di Da Di that Battles have truly found a musical comfort zone. This record feels like it has a story to tell with arcs, lulls, and explosions of vibrant energy. By the end you want to revisit that story again. And again.