Battles – La Di Da Di

Album Review by John Nugent | 02 Sep 2015
Album title: La Di Da Di
Artist: Battles
Label: Warp
Release date: 18 Sep

Thank God for Battles. First emerging in the mid-noughties, theirs was a brand of fiery, frenetic art rock unlike any other: experimentalism charged with a sense of humour. Debut album Mirrored was a mad masterpiece. When guitarist and vocalist Tyondai Braxton left the band suddenly, the ingenious response for Gloss Drop, their second LP and first as a three-piece, was simply to stuff it with guest stars, featuring artists as diverse as Gary Numan and Kazu Makino filling in on vocal duties.

But it’s just the trio on their tod this time, and fun as it is, album number three is left wanting for focus. You could never doubt the furious amount of energy and pace throughout La Di Da Di – there remain some serious ants in the collective pants of this band – but it’s lacking some of the texture and depth they made their name with. There’s not enough of the thundering bass of old, and their more waywardly avant-garde tracks – Tricentennial, Cacio e Pepe – seem like unfinished experiments, uncharacteristically sapping and enervating.

Still, there are occasions which still hint at that esoteric sparkle. Opening track The Yabba, a bonkers rock opera in about eight movements, is as astounding as anything the band have commited to wax. With the tempo on tracks like FF Bada approaching, ooh, 400 BPM perhaps? – it’s hard to fault the technical skills of these musicians who operate at such a forensic level, each note, beat, and detail, exact and deliberate, their playful flair intact.

And there’s still a wryness about them. It’s there in the jaunty, fuck-conventional-time-signatures approach to closing track Luu Le. It’s there in the album artwork and Slick Rick-referencing title. In fact, it’s there in most of the song titles – it is somehow very funny that a band from Brooklyn would name a song after a ceremonial county of the northeast of England (Tyne Wear).

All that’s missing, bluntly put, is another band member. Singers were never the focus for a band this ruthlessly out there (the chorus to their debut single Atlas, barely audible through electronic tampering, went: “the singer is a crook”) but it was a key anchor, something to hang the glorious noisy mess around. Just one extra layer might lift bleakly repetitive tracks like Summer Simmer out of self-indulgence and into a brilliance we know they possess.

Playing Manchester Academy 2 on 23 Oct and Glasgow O2 ABC on 25 Oct