Reviewed by Justin Goodman
La Di Da Di
Warp Records, September 18, 2015, ASIN: B011MJ8WOI
Battles hasn’t been the same without Tyondai Braxton. As much is obvious when you listen to Tyondai’s 2009 Central Market, a haunting homage to Stravinsky’s Ballet Petrushka and the 2008 market crash, beside Battles’ 2011 album, a year after he left, Gloss Drop. Their first album, Mirrored, showed quirkiness that demanded serious attention. More Aubrey Plaza than Zooey Deschanel. Now Battles returns with La Di Da Di, an album as benign as its name, hovering between considerable monotony and death throes.
Listening to only the beginning track, “The Yabba,” you’d be convinced they had only been playing possum. That’s to say it sounds like paraplegic version of a track from Mirrored. An electronic ambience bleeding into a minimalist mingle of africana drums, sleigh bells, and a digital squeak. There’s an 8-bit quality to the audio – For myself, I’m reminded of Doom’s soundtrack [link] – that can’t quite mimic the beautifully absurd vocals of a track like “Atlas.” When it does add complexity, it comes at the cost of uniqueness, especially in intermission tracks “Dot Net” and “Dot Com” which only act to segue between relatively superior, yet still forgettable, tracks.
But there are bits and pieces that remind me of what Battles has been. I noted the piano on Mouse on the Keys’ The Flowers of Romance for the same reason I point to “Tricentennial” and “Megatouch” as the La Di Da Di‘s best tracks: they disrupt the expected tone of the music. There’s an almost Stockhausen interest in how static has rhythm, and how that can be intermingled with acoustics and percussion. This is what Braxton himself meant when, in an interview with Bomb, he said “the things that are interesting are the sounds and threads that create each sound.” Mixed meter is no longer enough.
These brilliantly erratic moments are brief ones. The album as a whole is not bad, per se, but Battles’ standards are higher than other math rock bands. It’s certainly not enough to convince me that Braxton was not the pivot that made the band turn with such force that it was dizzying. Just listen to the last 50 seconds of the final track, “Luu Le.” A marcher’s pulse with distorted guitar following the heavy petting of drums. It’s an undeserved reserved ending, of an unearned length. Meanwhile, Braxton’s solo work still has that effect on me that makes every measure earned. “FF Bada,” “Flora > Fauna”? They’re good. Unfortunately, they’re not great.
About the reviewer: Justin Goodman graduated from SUNY Purchase with a B.A. in Literature. Having moved from Long Island, he now lives in the City with reviews in Cleaver Magazine and InYourSpeakers, and work in Italics Mine, 360 Degrees, and Counterexample Poetics.