Release Date: Sep 18, 2015
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Math Rock, Neo-Prog
From the opening moments of “The Yabba,” the first track from Battles’ third studio LP La Di Da Di, a kind of tribal bemusement rears its digital maw. Bedazzled by a crescendo of reversed, looped blips, sleigh bells and the persistence of some unknown looming catharsis, “The Yabba” unfolds like a hard-drive nightmare and blooms suddenly into a pixelated psychedelic wonderland. It’s a sign of things to come on the tech-themed La Di Da Di, and a highly listenable mishmash of weirdness that only Battles could have dreamed up.
Don’t be alarmed by Battles. A trio making muscular, fist-down instrumental rock that throws sharp darts at every opportunity might be their game, but wait: They’ve called their new album ‘La Di Da Di’, as innocent and approachable a title as they come. Concrete objects might be more fitting, but the cover art is draped in a collage of breakfast food - eggs, pancakes, a half-peeled banana piercing through a watermelon (ooh er), one rash of bacon.
Battles' John Stanier, Ian Williams, and Dave Konopka always sound psyched to play together, but never more so than on their first entirely instrumental album, La Di Da Di. While vocals -- first provided by Tyondai Braxton on their early work and by a host of collaborators on 2011's Gloss Drop -- might have seemed necessary to humanize their experimentation, they're not missed on the band's third full-length. If anything, removing them gives the trio's ideas to generate sparks the way they did on Mirrored (particularly on "Tricentennial," which recalls the mischievous alien anthems of their debut) while keeping Gloss Drop's immediacy.
American experimental rock trio Battles are a band that occupy a rather strange place in contemporary music’s multi-dimensional landscape. The music they make is largely instrumental and disconnected from any sort of commercial or, at times, even traditionally melodic concerns. Yet, the trio of drummer John Stanier and multi-instrumentalists Ian Williams and Dave Konopka have carved out one of the most beguiling career passages in modern rock.
Battles’ third album, La Di Da Di, feels like a return to something elemental and specific in the band’s history. It is satisfyingly clean, echoing the bright, shiny flatness of the current digital landscape. It’s as basic as these guys can get, which all said, isn't especially basic: The music feels like a highly-saturated, highly-composed Takashi Murakami print, or a website that needed a lot of programming to make it look as minimal and usable as possible (not for nothing are there songs here called "Dot Com" and "Dot Net").
The album artwork for Battles’ third album, La Di Da Di is proving a bit distracting right now. In case you can’t see the picture above, it’s a big pile of breakfast food. You’ve got a stack of pancakes up the top and some fried eggs down the bottom. But then right there in the middle you have a banana, prodded suggestively through the soft flesh of a watermelon slice, right next to some well-done rashers of bacon.
Not since 20 Jazz Funk Greats has there been an album titled as insincerely as La Di Da Di. An entirely instrumental album of transhuman post-rock and fiberglass math, it couldn’t be much more distant from the innocent singalongs deceitfully promised by its name. Its prickly riffs and underhanded rhythms slot frigidly into matrices that sound even further removed from childish or folkish choruses than their previous albums, evoking a domain where convoluted logic is the sole driver of life, not human wills, sentiments, and passions.
Who was the last guitar hero or star drummer? It feels like so long since a band been identified by a chief instrumentalist that you could count our current Les Claypools and Jack Whites on your hand: combustible Cloud Nothings drummer Jason Gerycz, reformed two-hand tapper Marnie Stern, mysteriously discreet shredder Annie Clark (d/b/a St. Vincent). Ensemble playing has mutated from a Northern indie curio (Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire) into de rigueur caverns of blown-out production for everything across the pop spectrum: the Lumineers, fun., the Weeknd.
Let’s not bury the lede here. Battles kick off their third album with a track called “The Yabba”, but refuse to follow it up elsewhere on the record with “The Dabba” or “The Doo.” Other fans of Fred Flinstone’s catchphrase and esoteric, instrumental indie rock will surely be as disappointed about this as I was. Maybe the trio is planning on saving those two songs for the opening of their next two albums.
Experimental rock outfit Battles exploded onto the indie scene in 2007 with Mirrored, an album that scratched a particular itch in the folds of the brain, causing listeners to bounce and dance jubilantly while also attempting to figure out exactly what was happening. The then-quartet had a strong joint resume that included work in noise and math rock acts including Helmet, Lynx, and Don Caballero, but few expected the propulsive compositions they unleashed. John Stanier brought furious, precise drumming, Ian Williams nimbly looped and layered stretches of synth and guitar, Dave Konopka tapped out interlocking guitar and bass, and Tyondai Braxton seemed to lead the way, doing some multi-instrumental looping of his own as well as pitch-shifting and twisting his voice into alternately cute and eerie cartoon tones.
Battles’ latest album is a slinky joy. The New York math-rave outfit made their name as an experimental rock band crossed with a party animal – largely instrumental, but with treated vocals most often deployed as textures. Save for some yelling on Summer Simmer, this third effort dispenses with the reliance on singers that characterised its predecessors.
Battles’ last album, 2011’s Gloss Drop, featured a wealth of guest vocalists who each brought a distinct colour to the group’s already spectacular palette. But, on its follow-up, Battles have returned to the wordless, spectral, often baffling brand of rock they’ve made unmistakeably their own in their nine-year lifespan. That’s not to say La Di Da Di is a step backwards.
[a]Battles[/a]’ last album, 2011’s ‘Gloss Drop’, was a masterclass in pop-tastic playfulness. After former singer Tyondai Braxton quit to pursue his solo career halfway through recording, the experimental New York three-piece bounced back by roping in pals like Gary Numan and Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino to sing on a bunch of infectious-but-bloody-weird bangers.This time round though, it’s a slightly bumpier playing field. Third album ‘La Di Da Di’ is comprised of 12 entirely instrumental tracks that feel less like stand-alone songs and more like strange sonic experiments cooked up in a lab.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. BBC Television Centre, November 2007. A virtually unknown band from New York City has been invited to perform on Later… with Jools Holland alongside the likes of Richard Thompson, Róisín Murphy, and Crowded House. They look completely out of place in such company, not at all unlike four nerdy A/V club kids trying to impress their parents with a daunting melange of effects pedals, electric guitars, synthesisers, laptops, and towering amplifiers (and not to mention the one solitary drum kit).
Battles' debut Mirrored is still one of the most notable albums of the last several years. It managed to present a wholly weird sound—experimental rock built not on electronics, but filtered through them in a visceral and unique way—and somehow masquerade it as pop music. A lot of the band's appeal was due to the strange-as-hell filtered vocals by Tyondai Braxton.
Math rock has always been a genre title as dubious as any, but at least it made some literal sense. These are complicated, proficient rock structures whose clarity and decisiveness belie sophisticated inner workings. Like their ancestors Don Caballero and Storm & Stress, Battles, since their first EP in 2004, fit the term to a tee. What made the New York supergroup a greater crossover success, however, was how they translated the music’s complications, convolutions and contortions into something almost normal.
If the phrase “we eat with our eyes” could be applied to record sleeve design then La Di Da Di (with its bright depiction of breakfast foods and fruits), hints at a record of sweet and playful aural delights - full of depth, texture, flavour and most importantly enjoyment. But what if the eyes deceive? On Battles’ third full-length studio record, sustained and enjoyable aural nourishment comes hard to find. It is hard at times to pinpoint the exact problems within La Di Da Di.
Uniquely among their peers, Battles came with a mission statement, maybe even a theme song – their declamatory breakout single Atlas, with its trailblazing chorus: “People won't be people when they hear this sound”. Their music explores themes of organic/synthetic, human/machine, real/contrived; it's not exactly Hegelian dialectics, but they have fun riffing on these supposed dichotomies, making music that touches both sides of the overlap. It's harder to explore the same ideas without a vocalist: since the departure of Tyondai Braxton, they put out an album of mostly collaborations with guest singers (2011's Gloss Drop), and now with La Di Da Di, the trio have gone all-out instrumental.
The third album from the New York trio Battles opens with a sputtering noise: a sign that what’s to come will be rife with the unexpected, whether it’s the jingle bells that anchor the opening track “The Yabba” or the music-box treatments given to the guitars on the dizzying, triumphant “Cacio e Pepe. ” The band — Dave Konopka on bass and effects, Ian Williams on guitar and keyboards, and the storming John Stanier on drums — is one of rock’s most exciting because of its inability to stay inside any stylistic box, and this vocals-free album shows it at the peak of its music-bending powers. “Dot Com” plants heady arpeggios atop finicky keyboards that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Blondie record; “Tricentennial” combines a thick riff and galloping-hordes drums with a high, tight guitar line that sounds like a caution flare.
Hasta la vista, vocals. Battles, the definitive math-rock band, goes fully instrumental on “La Di Da Di,” the group’s third studio album and a tour de force. Vocals from a founding member who has left the band, Tyondai Braxton, meshed with the instruments on Battles’ 2007 debut album, “Mirrored”; guest singers on the 2011 “Gloss Drop” often cluttered up their songs.
Battles – La Di Da Di (Warp)From the moment “SZ2” slunk in on that first EP B — which still seems ahead of the curve 11 years on — Battles insisted on being a different kind of band. Not quite math-rock, not quite prog, not quite indie-rock, not quite IDM, not quite flat-out avant-garde abstraction, the group was simply the sound of a more promising rock future. They were the stuff of a manifesto.With each release, they mutated slightly.
If you'd asked Battles the answer to the question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" back in 2007, they would've answered "That chicken's a dog! Look it! He smells terrible!" Back then they were a four-piece, counting experimental composer Tyondai Braxton among their number, alongside a duo of instrumental wizards and the meat conglomeration of drummer John Stanier, with his crash cymbal forever extended three feet higher than the norm. Their debut LP, Mirrored, was perfect on its own terms, setting and fulfilling its own symmetrical, theory-based targets. You're right: that, in itself, doesn't sound hugely thrilling.
There aren’t many experimental post-rock bands other than Battles that can accurately be described as “fun.” There might be fewer genuinely wacky moments on La Di Da Di than on their previous outings, but the New York City trio still give off a feeling of light-hearted abandon. The biggest difference on this third album is the complete absence of vocals, which shifts the emphasis to the interplay between Ian Williams’s guitar melodies and drummer John Stanier’s constantly shifting rhythms. Gurgling electronics are still in the mix, but the album sounds more like the result of a band playing together in a room than carefully crafted studio experiments.