Eight years later, the band has parted ways with singer and founding member Tyondai Braxton, released a collaborative, vocal-centric second album and come full circle with the instrumental La Di Da Di. It’s tempting to call the trio’s latest a return to form, as more than a few of its 12 tracks carry the DNA of Mirrored and Gloss Drop, but Battles are far too talented and ambitious to double back on themselves. Ian Williams finds new sneaky ways to exploit his ambidextrous synth and guitar performances. Dave Konopka, the secret weapon, folds his bass, guitar and pedalboard into strange shapes. John Stanier continues to keep true north with his powerhouse drumming. Still, there's a disconnect in La Di Da Di, and the problem stems from the band both over- and underplaying their strengths.
Battles' best work is a labyrinth of rhythm, dynamic melody, sound manipulation, angular groove, harmonic discord and hairpin turns. This is on La Di Da Di: "Dot Net" is a malfunctioning robo-funk roller with ADHD, and both "FF Bada" and "Summer Simmer" carve out spicy dance floor ideas from a glut of micro melodies and rhythmic input. The latter song in particular recalls the increasing claustrophobia of Mirrored's "TIJ" or Gloss Drop's "White Electric," and holds just enough back to leave room for the listener to enjoy the choreography. A song like "Non-Violence" tips the scales—the piece jumps straight into shrill harmonic chaos and slants upwards, tracing high-frequency synth whirrs and indistinguishable percussion onto its flat surface. The noise wouldn't be so unwelcome if it seemed poised to take us anywhere.
The ostentatious stuff sticks out more next to interludes like "Tyne Wear" and "Cacio E Pepe," which are more or less rudimentary sketches in the context of a Battles album. And yet those are often the song's that wrap up all too quickly. The band have always peppered their records with short tracks like these—the brutish "Leyendecker" is still the most satisfying example—so it says something about La Di Da Di that its simplest ideas are also its most interesting. Maybe that's because, if there's such a thing as peak maximalism, the band seems dead set on finding it through most of La Di Da Di. Which makes sense: Battles don't release albums so much as unveil science projects, demonstrating what unprecedented concoctions they've devised for us to marvel at. In the past this meant they'd hand over a gadget full of esoteric circuitry, masterful engineering and kinetic potential. This time, however, it's something more functional, familiar and safe.