La Di Da Di doesn’t so much hit the mark as it does loop around again and again until it creates one.
Battles soldiered on through the loss of the visionary Tyondai Braxton five years ago. They came out sparkling on the other end with 2011’s Gloss Drop, but such a successful effort (which actually cracked Billboard’s Top 100) required an assist from a handful of featured guests. Keeping with the experimental math rock trio’s pattern of four-year gaps between records, La Di Da Di surfaces without a scrap of vocals to be found amongst a dozen brawny yet cerebral instrumental tracks.
Battles’ bread and butter has been and conceivably always will be repetition. Their claim to fame is largely in taking “repetitive music” (usually not a positive term) and using it to propel them to rare air. Their repetition is so ingrained within the philosophy of the band that, in their 17-minute Ableton-produced documentary “Battles: The Art of Repetition,” drummer John Stanier goes so far as to say that “looping is the backbone of this band” and that he “can’t even imagine not playing to a loop anymore.” Yet, Battles doesn’t use repetition for a psychedelic transcendence, but rather to explore new sonic spaces. After all, the band has also gone on record as saying “there is no deep philosophical meaning… repetition is just something that’s really interesting to us.”
La Di Da Di brings repetition to the fore, perhaps to an even larger degree than past endeavors, and the result is mostly interesting. However, you won’t find the swelling intensity and cathartic release of Mirrored’s “Tonto” or even the otherworldliness of “Atlas.” There’s not the huffing vigor paired with chill vibes on Gloss Drop’s “Ice Cream.” And as a result, La Di Da Di may end up being Battles’ most polarizing album. La Di Da Di doesn’t spin its wheels, but the band’s insistence of wringing every last drop from their loop of choice does leave the listener prone to exhaustion.
The album thrums to life with “The Yabba,” and once the oscillating mechanisms are set into place, they swirl, buzz and clatter much like a long-dormant automaton shaking off rust—an apt beginning for an electronics-oriented band that takes its time between albums. The instrumental tracks fit together in such a way that several can slide by before you even realize you’re listening to a different song. Yet the tracks somehow don’t build off each other as much as would be ideal for a wordless record. While other early tracks like “FF Bada” and “Dot Net” share a similar approach (start slow and simmering, break open into more muscular machinations) they are closer to facsimile than elaboration, but the back end is stuffed with some of La Di Da Di’s most unique music. “Megatouch” once again opens with a slow churn that gives way to Stanier’s emphatic drumming, but then the track swivels into fanciful and slightly off-kilter organ that taps back into the surrealism so predominant on Mirrored. “Tricentennial” gets discordant and militant, while “Dot Com” may be as methodically jubilant as the band gets anywhere on the album.
La Di Da Di doesn’t so much hit the mark as it does loop around again and again until it creates one. The impression the album leaves isn’t as vivid as Mirrored or Gloss Drop, but it’s also proof that Battles can churn out intricate and effective music when stripped of bells and whistles. Like the best art, this record may not be for everyone, but the band mostly fulfills its promise to at least make repetition interesting.