BATTLES: LA DI DA DI (2015)
1) The Yabba; 2) Dot Net; 3) FF Bada; 4) Summer Simmer; 5) Cacio E Pepe; 6) Non-Violence; 7) Dot Com; 8) Tyne Wear; 9) Tricentennial; 10) Megatouch; 11) Flora > Fauna; 12) Luu Le.
Well, the third Battles album is here, and the main difference is that this time, they have omitted vocals altogether. Which is a plus — because they used to know a million ways of making vocals sound annoying and irritating — but also a minus, because without the vocals, Battles move even closer to the status of a «pure intellectual construct» than ever before. Now they just play robot-engineered progressive rock, which is all right for a world soon-to-be populated with robots, but not quite all right for a world still populated with organic brains.
That said, in the long run it might be a noble decision, and not just because the time of our being overrun with robots is nigh at hand (I have no idea, really), but also because in this way, they have intentionally and viciously massacred all hopes for a «pop» career in an epoch when even the deepest and subtlest performers can hardly withstand such a temptation. I mean, maybe ʽIce Creamʼ and ʽAtlasʼ could still hope to find some sort of mass audience, but ʽThe Yabbaʼ and ʽFF Badaʼ, released as singles from this album, will shoo away people with their titles first, their lack of vocals second, and the "Oh! I thought they were cool clubbin' weirdos, but apparently they're just weirdos!" reaction nailing the final nails. And that is okay for the 2010s, a time period where the equation «popularity» = «overhyped crap» probably holds truer than ever.
Not that it immediately warms my heart, or should warm anybody's heart, to the music on La Di Da Di. It is consistently interesting and consistently «classy», but there ain't much progress here: Battles are too clever to re-write their melodies, but not too clever to break through their math-rock formulas. It's like the next step after Kraftwerk — Kraftwerk wrote humanistic music from a robotic perspective, and these guys write robotic music from a humanistic perspective. And who can really understand these robots? My best attempts to «visualize» this album see it as a long journey, maybe a digital one, that a pack of very determined, very tightly focused robotic units undertakes from Point A to Point B, crossing various obstacles along the way. In fact, it does sound very much like a soundtrack to an arcade game of jumping, dodging, and hitting, stretched across 12 levels of varying length and complexity.
Few reviews of the album find sufficient strength to dwell in detail on any of the individual tracks, and for a good reason — of all Battles albums so far, this one has the least individuality on any of its tracks, although that does not necessarily make it the worst Battles album so far. I do have to observe that a lot of the tracks are structured like dialogs, usually between a low-pitched guitar, bass, or keyboard and a high-pitched instrument, which is probably this band's attempt to avoid accusations of «pretentiousness» or «indulgence» (such accusations are most commonly associated with lengthy solo passages), but ultimately it makes an even stronger point in support of the «video game soundtrack» interpretation — you can imagine yourself as the high-pitched Hero, and your evil antagonist(s) as the low-pitched bastard(s) that you have to outsmart. And you have exactly 49 minutes and 13 seconds — ready, set, go.
In this capacity — a fun, adventurous, bouncy-bubbly-dynamic pseudo-video game soundtrack — I have no problem issuing a thumbs up rating for the album. I also like the idea that they are still largely using live drums and real guitars, instead of completely giving in to the seduction of electronics: contrary to what some of the reviewers have said, this does not provide «human warmth» to the compositions (because every possible effort has been made to simulate non-humanity), but it does provide a certain aura of realism to the proceedings. It's as in, which one do you prefer, a robot behind an actual drumkit or a drum machine? I'd definitely go for the former, although that's just me.