Battles have garnered themselves quite the reputation for being purveyors of difficult music. Their past two albums have shown it, being made out of complicated rhythms that have more to do with a nervous unrest than their immediate, external surroundings.
Aided by guitars and drums, they’re one of those new kind of rock bands who veer away from the usual perception of rock music. They don’t have much consideration for lyrics, or the preordained structures of verse, verse, chorus, verse, instead working on their own stream of consciousness style. In that sense they sometimes sound more like an experimental electronic outfit than a rock band.
With this latest outing, ‘La Di Da Di,’ there hasn’t been a whole lot of change in that department. Still their wild and weird selves, their recent confession to be taking the music a little less seriously this go around sounds a bit contradictory on the basis of the evidence. Listening to the album, a statement like that does not reflect the intensity that they have brilliantly imbued throughout these latest tunes.
Whereas previous albums were firmly centered around technical experimentation, ‘La Di Da Di’ is a megatronic effort, bringing the band into the realms of the epic, the epicurean; playing music for fun and obviously allowing themselves to write tunes unconcerned by worries about the reception that the album would get.
That’s genuinely how it sounds – instinctive and like an extended jamming session, which explains what they meant when they talked about being less serious on this album. From the start, on The Yabba, they give the listener the sense of something intergalactic. It’s hard not to feel your heart start to race, or your breath begin to thin, or your feet take to tapping away, because their rhythms are so downright addictive and often overwhelming that you can’t help but get caught up in the noise.
Beyond this heady opening they make their way through a list of very unique songs, like Dot Net which includes rhythms that seem made out of electrified wood-blocks and spacy farting. Summer Simmer uses metallic vibrations with booming drums in the undercurrent to really set the cat amongst the pigeons, giving first-hand experience to new listeners of how proficient they are at shaking the skeletal system by way of bombastic sonic manipulations.
They go on to channel Kraftwerk circa ‘Trans Europa Express’ or ‘Autobahn’, using the kind of basic landscape techno that was at one time ground-breaking. In the same category of updating the basic are interspersed arcade-ish beats that wouldn’t be out of place in a Super Mario soundtrack. These moments are quite funky, contrasting well against other periods of intense storminess.
Generally speaking, the whole album reeks of a kind of nervous energy. It sometimes feels like the guys are trying to let off steam, to stop the mind working by way of something far more physical. In so doing, however, they draw out weird rhythms which necessitate the insertion of trumpets, helicopter rotors, and even, on Mega Touch, a jittery re-imagining of the kind of grandiose indie rock songs associated with The National or The Walkmen.
At that point, a point of their own seems to hit home. Battles are not a band made in the romantic mould – they are, instead, closer to being the spiritual heirs to the groove-laden bounce music of Talking Heads, exhibited best beyond that band’s punk beginnings, on something like ‘Fear of Music’.
To all intents and purposes it appears that they have taken a step forward with this latest album. ‘La Di Da Di’ sees them go for soaring sounds and cataclysmic renderings of emotions which were not apparent on previous efforts. The hallmarks of their unique style are still present. Now, though, it no longer seems quite as hopeful as it once did to say that they are masters of their craft.