No sci-fi storyline is as commercially viable as the one that pits man against machine. You know the plot - humanity bested by the very machines they created. Well, listening to Battles' third LP, you may think that the machine uprising has already come to pass: 'La Di Da Di' is the kind of dense clusterfuck of experimental rock you'd expect to find on the playlist of a T-1000.
First things first: Tyondai Braxton is conspicuous by his absence. Braxton - co-founder, guitarist and de-facto frontman - left in 2010. When Braxton previously contributed vocals they were muddied - warped by effects-pedals and studio trickery – but his voice provided an often-necessary foil to the barrage of robotic sounds. The eleven tracks that comprise 'La Di Da Di' are completely instrumental in nature. Consequently they lack the semi-organic edge that, when meshed to the erratic and blurry soundscapes of tracks like 'Atlas' and 'Leyendecker', elevated them into classic Battles tracks.
'Summer Simmer' and 'Non-Violence' are the high-points. They prove that Battles can still peddle a variety of opaque, cerebral alt-rock that prioritizes mood over melody, yet still imbues in the listener an unshakable urge to dance. Elsewhere, though, the repetitive 128-bit glitch-rock of tracks like 'FF Bada' and 'Tricentennial' is wearying.
On 2011's 'Gloss Drop' Battles drafted in a clutch of guest vocalists to compensate for Braxton's departure, and their latest LP would have benefited from a similar approach. Like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, 'La Di Da Di' too often feels like a soulless automaton tearing around on autopilot. If only it had a heart.
Words: Benji Taylor
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