Music Reviews
La Di Da Di

Battles La Di Da Di

(Warp) Rating - 5/10

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. Instead of focusing on neck-jerking and foot-stomping, their direction on this record is oddly austere, suggestive of a deeper aesthetic goal.

The talent and ambition of Battles is unquestionable; they're blessed with one of the finest drummers in the fucking world in John Stanier, and between them Ian Williams and Dave Konopka succeed in warping the tones of their strings and keys beyond recognition. Stanier wisely keeps his drumming unprocessed, thus retaining its raw muscular force, while Williams & Konopka mutilate their timbres as much as they can. This is most effective on tracks like Dot Net, which features a riff bursting out at its edges with huge multi-octave leaps, and Non-Violence, a showcase for Stanier's propulsive drumming. Afrobeat-inspired FF Bada is all punchy guitar tones and polyphonies, and it's to its credit that it has the most linear structure here, building cohesively into its climax, always introducing new motifs.

But overall there's something, I want to say arduous about listening to La Di Da Di, and whether or not that's part of its content is unclear. Previously, Battles had the perfect formula of tension/release, able to inject their songs with strategic bursts of energy, constantly engaging, yet never over-cluttered. They were a dance party band – that their music's overriding themes of zeitgeisty post-human optimism was stylistic, never belaboured. La Di Da Di, however, is structurally uneven, often deliberately un-groovy; unmistakably they're the same band, but bereft of a certain spark I can only vaguely attempt to pin down.

Lead track The Yabba does everything that the album does both right and wrong. It's like a Battles song that's been restructured as if to restrain its potential. The busiest, grooviest sections are classic Battles: alien guitar tones, yammering drums, and rhythms you can dance to but that you can't quite second-guess. But it's filled with these turgid, often drumless interludes, which lack any kind of dynamic or tonal arc into the next sections – where you'd expect tension to be created, instead they zone in on drawn-out two-note riffs, which Stanier punctuates almost impatiently with snare hits. There's a three-minute edit of The Yabba waiting to be made of just the loud bits, which'd be twice as fun. This leads me to interrogate the philosophical reasons for Battles withholding fun like this – but I'm coming up empty-handed.

But then, The Yabba is relatively full of ideas when compared to the record's second half. Some of the tracks sound like sketches of what might later become fully-fledged songs – Tricentennial lazily slings together melodic call-and-responses for its first half, then switches gears haphazardly, aimlessly, for its remainder. Tyne Wear is under two minutes long, and takes its themes precisely nowhere. Closing track Luu Le simply seems disorientated – the transitions between its sections feel incoherent, random; its segments are individually pretty, but they almost sound like they've been shuffled.

The semiotics of La Di Da Di's titles and its album cover (Sheffield is currently dotted with posters of what I guess you'd have to call a banana fucking a watermelon slice? Is it a big smear of hummous on the back cover? Is that a colour chart at the bottom?) reveal little. In abandoning vocals, they've left us few clues as to what the album is about. The cynicism of my reaction says a lot – treating the record like a puzzle because I never found myself nodding my head to it. La Di Da Di is full of very cool timbres and some incredible drumming, but its arrangements leave a lot to be desired.