Battles: La Di Da Di

Scott Wallace
16th Sep 2015

The typically delightful cover art for Battles’ third album La Di Da Di looks like what might be the result if an alien attempted to re-create a human breakfast. In the same way, the rubbery melodies and morphing rhythms of the music itself sound like an extra-terrestrial version of rock music, learned from a transmission of a mangled Black Sabbath tape beamed across the galaxy.

Battles’ robust take on rock becomes leaner and meaner with every successive release. The band lost vocalist Tyondai Braxton, whose warped gibbering characterised their 2007 debut album Mirrored. On the 2011 follow-up Gloss Drop he was replaced with a series of high-profile guest vocalists like Gary Numan and Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead. Now on La Di Da Di vocals have been dropped entirely, revealing an extremely tight trio that seem to play as one.

The good news is that this makes for a more focused return to form for the band. Opener “The Yabba” is nearly seven minutes of amazing shapeshifting polyrhythms and twisting arpeggios that are absolutely delightful. The panicked robot synths of “Dot Net” keep up the momentum as the album draws you in. For music this careening and seemingly out-of-control, it’s surprising how accessible it is.

The guitars and bass always hit in the same dry, almost hollow way and the drums have the same close and up-front presence on each track. You get the sense that behind all the obvious musical virtuosity of the trio as musicians, the record would not have its otherworldly sound without a huge amount of knob-twisting to get it to sound just so. This kind of laboured-over feel can actually suck a bit of the fun out of the proceedings at times – almost like the sounds have been twisted and kneaded until they’re overworked.

But in another light, the record has an enormous amount of consistency, even when the band stretch out into more ambient stretches like the spacey, circling “Cacio e Pepe” and its warring synthesizers. In the record’s best moments, Battles find a balance of tradition and experimentation, such as on the submerged hardcore punk rhythm and jazz harmonics of “FF Bada” or the tension between clusters of high tones and slamming metal guitars on “Non-Violence.”

Listening to La Di Da Di, you get the sense that it would be a perfect album to keep in your car, to transform every drive into an adventure. The record is nothing if not dynamic, not only within individual tracks, but across its whole length. The marginally more gentle, friendly-sounding “Dot Com” and the choppy sound sketch “Tyne Wear” offer a bit of respite from the madness just in time. These dynamic shifts are subtle though; if you’re not in a patient mood a lot of the album risks feeling like pointless bluster.

This record is an exciting trip through alien soundscapes that are weirdly and winkingly familiar; late album highlight “Megatouch” sounds like a duet between a Balkan dance band and a malfunctioning printer, creating an intriguing sense of intentionally robotic uncanniness that echoes the musical glossolalia of the record's title. La Di Da Di, is not perfect, but it’s the most at-ease Battles have ever been on record. Their first album felt like it was striving to be a masterpiece (and it nearly got there) and their second striving to differentiate itself, but this record just exists in its own exploratory, unguarded way.

La Di Da Di is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday September 18.