Battles - La Di Da Di - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Battles - La Di Da Di

by Ethan Ranis Rating:7 Release Date:2015-09-18

Where did the structure go? Over their two prior LPs, Battles developed a signature sound: looped and pitch-shifted guitars that were made to sound like steel drums and Asian instruments combined with deep, distorted bass, all laid over the machine-like, die-cut precision drumming of John Stanier. After their breakthrough, Mirrored, vocalist Tyondai Braxton quit the band to fiddle with elaborate solo orchestrations, and the follow-up, Gloss Drop, subbed in guest vocalists from Gary Numan to Boredoms’ Yamataka Eye.

La Di Da Di dispenses with vocals entirely in favor of the interaction between its three core members.  Unfortunately, it also throws out much of the band’s taste for song structure.

La Di Da Di’s focus on jams could be read in two possible ways, one favorable and one less so.  It could be, as early promotional text stated, that the goal was to take “the tangled wires and entrails of their previous records” and have them “pulled out, flung against the wall and scraped into an unruly pile to be trodden on” – in other words, intentional chaos. Alternatively, it could just be that the band got lazy and didn’t feel like writing proper songs for the majority of these tracks.. 

Either way, by forsaking the intricately composed suites of the first two albums, Battles have effectively handicapped themselves.  Some of the most striking moments on those earlier records came from their deliberate composition (the thrilling drop-out and crescendo in ‘Atlas’ or the push-pull intro of ‘Ice Cream’ come to mind). Worse, Stanier’s unparalleled drumming feels out of place when the rest of the rhythms don’t perfectly lock into his grooves.  Only toward the end of album does it feel like there's a sense of structure or intention.

The resulting tracks often feel a bit aimless, like they are waiting for a destination to present itself. Opener ‘The Yabba’ wanders through several build-ups and cool-downs before finally breaking into a more interesting flurry of Oriental-scale trills at the end.  Second single ‘FF Bada’ coasts on sounds that Battles has already fully explored. And while ‘Summer Simmer’ has plenty of character due to its weirdo synth flourishes and distorted crunch, it only approaches melody toward its ending and generally errs on the side of discord.

In place of songwriting, Battles have largely continued their exploration of strange new frequencies (compare ‘Toddler’ from Gloss Drop) and added dubby filter sweeps and delay to the mix. ‘Dot Net’ has a neat breakbeat groove, but also contains distractingly high-pitched keyboards that are just plain grating and difficult to listen to. Some of this experimentation is downright unsuccessful – ‘Megatouch’’s haunted-house organ lead just sounds like it was pulled from a goofy 90s Nintendo game.

That said, there are some standout moments on this album that can make weathering the more frustrating parts a worthwhile venture.  Some of these have notably less percussion than past works, like ‘Cacio e Pepe,’ which lays lovely oceans of distortion over twinkling rhythmic loops. ‘Dot Com’ begins with pinging synths that are reminiscent of Basic Channel before breaking into a joyous jam replete with an infectious set of power-chords. And closer ‘Luu Le’ has simultaneously childlike and majestic instrumentation that suits the epic theme and variations it presents.

Parts of La Di Da Di feel tossed off, but when Battles is clicking, they still present a unified vision that is completely different from anything else out there. While the draggier moments of this album make it less likely to appeal to newcomers, there are enough pockets of gold here to satisfy the faithful.

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