REVIEW: BATTLES – La Di Da Di

It’s been a handful of weeks since Warp Records released BATTLESLa Di Da Di, the experimental outfit’s third full-length LP proper, and we should all still be shouting from the tenement rooftops about it. It’s that kind of record – part demented dance mash-up, part math-rock/post-rock opus, part Slick Rick-dropping, year-defining mythos – and it mostly surely, most definitely injects dangerous, toxic, brutal, poisonous, and utterly lovely things into the hearts of men and women alike. Sickness abounds.

But then there’s that song. No, I’m not talking about “The Yabba,” (check out this sweet NYC session), that intricate gem, the oft-cited, texture-vampire, album-opener that’s been making the rounds on the Internet. (That’s the song you’re hearing that’ll make the indie set feel cool about dancing to something this autumn.) No, no, no. No, no, no.

It’s the third song, “FF Bada.”

(Get the sense yet from these titles these guys just want you to let your brain and your arms sway loose and not clamp down on your arteries so goddamned hard?!)

“FF Bada” starts with standard muted guitar and a slightly funky … wait, uhhuh, wait, is that guitar or synth? And it just grows from there, first drums, then layer after layer of mutated and muted sound. It’s hard to tell, in the best BATTLES fashion, where the guitar ends and the synth begins. But it’s no clusterfuck. The song owes its palettes and its sonic tension, a true verse-chorus-verse burn, to The Pixies. And if you don’t believe me, just listen to the way the chorus drops out for Williams to deliver that Far East tableau, the ominous synth to tap a few notes and then — BOOM — the whole thing to return to earlier motifs, only here in full abandon. It’s perhaps one of the most obvious and inherent in structure (in other words: not suspect). But it’s also one of the most effective moments on the disc, and it makes the song one of the best slabs of math rock I’ve heard in five years, easy.

Don’t get me wrong, Pancho Villa, the band hardly plays it safe. On “Non-Violence,” BATTLES channels Trans Am and even Six Finger Satellite a little; on “Summer Simmer” it plain one-ups them. On “Dot Net” it grooves, all driven by drummer John Stanier’s off-time kicks. On “Dot Com,” it narrates with quarks and protons, this time selling the story with speaking (somewhat literally) synths and found sounds.

There are lulls, yes, yes, but they have purpose. “Cacio e Pepe,” the fifth track, and “Tyne Wear,” the eighth, are a lot of wandering textures only sometimes supplemented by Stanier’s drums and that leaves something to be desired. But, when listened to as a whole – call it The Dark Side of The Moon experience – it makes a lot more sense, like exhalation. Try it on long car ride and you’ll thank these guys for the space.

Then there are the experiments that are curiouser and curiouser, like BATTLES doing reggae. You read that right. Reggae. The boys talked about it in a pre-release Rolling Stone interview and the song they talked about,“Megatouch,” is a loose-limbed bit of reverbed rasta that gets points for its ambition, initiation and edginess. It can be a little rough around the ends but it’s a fantastic trip if you sit through the five-and-a-half minutes, all trippy bits and chirping synths.

And that last song “Luu Le?” Like a toned-down, broken-up N’awlins requiem on morphine and soma! Bring guitarist/synthesizerist Ian Williams along next time you need the razor-sharp edges of the world filed a little differently. Man can dig down deep and change the tune of the stations.

We used to say BATTLES was a byproduct of Don Cab and Helmet, as if there were direct lines, descendencies from current and former bandmates. Not so, Tyondai, not so. The new, all-instrumental version of the band on La Di Da Di shows its trajectories are wildly coming from a million miles apart – and within. And it shows a mighty wind is blowing. – Popdose, Oct. 8, 2015

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