Published Oct 15, 2019Like a hummingbird in flight, Battles make the most complex labour look carefree and weightless. Since the release of their debut album, Mirrors, in 2007, the group have built a name out of their sprawling experimental rock, one that funnels its complexities into a pure and simple energy.
It's an energy that's been constant — unaffected by the fact that the band have only gotten smaller since their inception. Vocalist Tydonai Braxton left in 2010, and, as of 2018, bassist Dave Konapa is gone too. As Battles release their fourth studio album, Juice B Crypts, then, the question appears once again: how might a band — one that finds itself at half of its original size — maintain its signature sense of complicated ease?
Juice B Crypts responds with 11 tracks of knotty, electronic rock puzzles. It's a response that's less a refutation of the question, and more of a dismissal of why it even needs to be asked. From opening track "Ambulance," Battles are back at the complex craft of building sequences out of repetition, alteration, layering — piecing sonic phrases over each other until the whole track seems to have a beating pulse. Drums skitter over the frantic electronic modulations unfolding beneath, as if trying to keep them in time. It's in this tension — between structure and randomness — where Battles locate their particular centrifugal force.
The band may be smaller, but Juice B Crypts wisely peoples its sonic room with a host of guest collaborators. Album highlight "They Played It Twice," for instance, features the distinct vocals of singer Xenia Rubinos, her honeyed phrasing filtered and altered through the band's mechanics, to stunning effect.
Ultimately, though, it's the tracks where Battles are left to their own devices that define the album. On "Fort Greene Park," watch as a blustering guitar collects itself into precarious catharsis — synths fall out of the drums that contain them, climb back in, and all builds to quietness. It's one of the most plaintively beautiful songs in Battles' catalogue, in its sonic attention to loss, to change over time. And, as we listen to it, we also listen to the sound of a band who continue to create after more than a decade — tempered with loss, yes, but also joy, also freedom. (Warp)