Battles – Juice

3 out of 5

Label: Warp

Produced by: Battles

I’m pretty sure I’ve gone over my history with Battles before, so I shan’t rehash – you’ve undoubtedly committed it to memory and can recite any requested verse on demand.  To summarize, though, from the EPs up until La Di Da Di – which was perfection – Battles had their ups and downs, but they always sounded undeniably unique.  It took me a while to adapt to Mirrored‘s poppiness, and then to Gloss Drop‘s somewhat more mechanized sounds and the different flavor of vocalists – ups and downs – but it was always Battles: always exciting, always pushing forward.

As mentioned, La Di Da Di was sort of the Battles album I’d always wanted, but couldn’t have imagined.  It took elements we’d heard before and revitalized them, stripping things down to something of a core “sound” at the same time.  Yeah, it’s a high bar to reachieve, so I wouldn’t hold the band to that expectation for what would follow, but the history here all still suggests that the next Battles album would be something to look forward to.

Okay, bassist Dave Konopka left.  If I’m being a horrible person, though, I’ll admit that I was drawn to Battles mainly due to Ian Williams, and then grew to love drummer John Stanier’s role in things as well, so with those guys remaining, I was still sure we’d have something great.  Okay, we’re littered with vocal guest stars again; I undeniably prefer the instrumentals, but I grew to love the various contributions to Gloss, so no big whoop.

Juice B Crypts: only occasionally sounds like Battles.  It occasionally sounds like rather generic indie pop, maybe with a really good keyboardist and drummer.  It’s “Battles”-y moments are few, and erupt sporadically, not quite feeling like part of the songs in which they appear, excepting maybe Fort Greene Park in the album’s middle, which grows rather organically, like a re-envisioned version of Tonto by the new 2-person variant of the group.  It’s the first Battles disc that kinda sorta bores me at points.

Stanier emerges as the highlight here, shifting and pummeling over Williams’ work, which is made to sound like its almost completely keyboards at this point.  To be fair, had I never heard Battles before, I’d be wowed by a lot of the wizardry on display: the skills shown are clear, and my calling it ‘generic’ is a bit derisive, as no one’s going to pair Xenia Rubios with the weird-ass electronic swooshes going on on They Played It Twice, or Tune Yards with the glitchiness of closer Last Supper on Shasta.  But then again, maybe there’s a reason they wouldn’t pair them, as I’m not sure these things sync together too well.  Gloss Drop felt like the group adapting to their contributors, coming up with fascinating ways to do so; that happens here on the beat-based Izm, with Shabazz Palaces, but elsewhere, it sounds like Williams and Stanier jamming while someone occasionally butts in to add some vocals.

It’s very probable that I’ll come around to this disc, but after several passes, there’s not really a song that sticks out, such as has occurred on all releases previously; there’s not those gateway tracks that convince me to come back, leading to an addiction.  Battles, as I knew them, still exists here, it’s just sounding a bit staid.  Perhaps another album of playing together as a two-piece will give Williams and Stanier the sync to produce another La Di Da Di, but even if that’s not the case, I’m still on board to see what’s next.