Battles have been around for a long time now, despite the two albums they have to their name. That might suggest a certain amount of perfectionism and fine-tuning when it comes to their full-lengths, which are both critically acclaimed. That’s why it’s been four years since 2011’s Gloss Drop, which was something of a stepping stone record between vocalist Tyondai Braxton on 2007’s Mirrored and the guest-vocalist-peppered Gloss Drop. La Di Da Di completely drops the vocal aspect in favour of instrumental rock, electronic and the modern equivalent of prog-rock (though nobody uses that term anymore, it has too much Pink Floyd connotations). So what the band is left with is the rock equivalent of Aphex Twin: twitchy, intelligent music that refuses to stand still. La Di Da Di is the natural progression for Battles, further into the complex instrumentation that made them so appealing in the first place.
La Di Da Di consists of several good songs and several slumps in quality, which is unfortunate considering the love and effort that Battles pour into each release. The first three songs: ‘The Yabba’, ‘Dot Net’ and ‘FF Bada’ are excellent; sliding into one another so effortlessly you might think that the band have just paused for a second and slightly altered their sound before taking up their instruments again and going straight into the next song. ‘The Yabba’ is a slow-burner, the more meandering version of ‘FF Bada’, which I reviewed not long ago. It’s quintessential Battles, beginning with a tribal drum beat and electronic twiddling before John Stainer’s simplistic drumming evolves bigger and bigger, encapsulated by elastic guitars. It’s a builder of a track, occasionally wandering off into sounds that are indistinguishable between guitars and synthesizers, before Stainer’s drumming pulls everything together once again, building a template for the many layers of instrumentation that follow. It would be an understatement to say Stainer is the foundation for Battles to develop from. Tracks such as ‘Luu Le’ and ‘Non-Violence’ are driven forward by Stainer’s drumming, both performed and captured excellently.
The album slumps come in two forms. One is where the track wanders aimlessly for its length, such as ‘Summer Simmer’, or where halfway through the track it loses interest in itself and trails off, for example ‘Luu Le’, which otherwise is a good song. It begins on a slow note, but builds itself up into a mess of bird-like guitar flutters and watery synths. And that’s ‘mess’ in a good way, by the way. A ‘mess’ in the same way Liars wanted to portray themselves on their last album; mess as a good thing to be had. ‘Tyne Wear’ is another track that doesn’t really know what to do with itself. A mixture of sleigh bells, synths and a funky bassline can’t save a brutally short track, clocking in under two minutes. It feels half complete, something that had a good start point but nobody wanted to add anything to it.
‘Tricentennial’ is where the band come into their own. Ultra-compressed basslines, glitchy synths and sounds that wouldn’t go amiss from Yeezus are laid across the track. It’s another short track (for Battles anyway), but it doesn’t feel half done. It’s weird and has each member’s handiwork in a segment. The band are clinical and sharp in their instrumentation, carving out their position and working together at the same time. It’s like asking a group of surgeons to make a record. Some tracks, unlike ‘The Yabba’ or ‘FF Bada’, hop in at the deep end, such as ‘Non-Violence’ and it’s good to see the explosion of sound the band can achieve straight away and also held up for four minutes without it getting monotonous. This is because Battles have the same always-moving twitchiness as Aphex Twin, as mentioned earlier. They absolutely love not repeating the same thing for too long.
The great tracks are balanced out by some minor stinkers. You can almost guarantee that the shorter tracks (‘Tyne Wear’, ‘Flora>Fauna’, ‘Cacio e Pepe’) won’t be able to offer the same amount of instrumental freedom as the longer tracks, and you begin to wonder why Battles didn’t just try to stick a longer track in the place of the weaker short ones. Battles flourish in the longer tracks mostly. The last track the longest one on here ‘Luu Le’, has the sleigh bells returning again in fine form, followed by Stainer’s military marching drums and Ian Williams’ knack for weird watery synths. The track begins somewhat slowly but everything speeds up, ‘The Yabba’-style. It frequently backs down and speeds up, discontent with it’s own tempo. The last half fades from view, the muffled sound of bass.
As a perfectionist band, you’d like to think Battles could twiddle with the knobs until they have a perfect sound, but time is working against them, so at some point they have to let their baby go. La Di Da Di is the clearest picture of Battles so far, unhooked from those damn limited vocalists. They aren’t so much controlled by where the voice takes them this time, but they go with their own rhythm – and their own rhythm sounds just right. Let down by a few short and trailing tracks, the album shows a reinvigorated form of rock music, experimental and not just four guys with guitars, bass and drums. It’s important to push the boundaries of what a rock record can be and Battles continuing to perform and create fuels that. Whilst they don’t revolutionise rock music, they put their own twist on it. With songs like ‘Tricentennial’ and ‘FF Bada’, they can be let off for making a few missteps.
Funnel Recommends: Tricentennial / FF Bada / Non-Violence