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Battles - Juice B Crypts (Album Review)

Wednesday, 23 October 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Atiba Jefferson

Formed in New York City in 2002, Battles have established themselves as perhaps the leading group in absurdist avant-garde math rock. Their new album takes this musical philosophy to its outer edges, smashing time signatures and tonalities together in a Technicolor melange of joyous hedonism.

That said, ‘Juice B Crypts’ is also home to the the type of music that could be played at an exclusive Brooklyn warehouse rave populated by artists and millionaires. Music for the masses this ain't. A Loop So Nice… illustrates this well. We open with a mazy synth patch; a rapid, varying sequence that borders on a kind of atonal squeaking.

Crisp drums adorn, and as the track gathers body, it descends into an acid trance; laying out splurging bass-lines and clicky hi-hats. It’s a tremendous composition that is over too soon.

No matter, as we are immediately hit with the wild honking of Xenia Rubinos who—accompanied by SNES sound effects—leads us into They Played It Twice. Actually, these two tracks operate as a diptych and would likely run into each other live. It works exceptionally well.

In certain ways, the zaniness of Battles’ music can distract from its technical precision. A bit like Frank Zappa and—to a certain extent—the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, the music is so drenched in humour that its intense musicality arrives with a joyous lightness of touch. This is one reason why Battles tend to be described as ‘experimental’ rock as opposed to ‘progressive’ rock, with the latter seen as more pompous; solemn, even.

Thus, the appearance of prog rock royalty Jon Anderson (singer of Yes), informs and elevates an album that was probably already Battles’ best work. Along with experimental folk offerings from Taipei’s Prairie WWWW, Anderson contributes to a song that is as sprawling and ridiculous as it is immersive and hypnotic. Sugar Foot builds out of a squelching synth motif that arrives at a frenzied extemporisation with mellifluous falsetto layering that recalls some of Yes’s early ‘70s work. It’s some of the best new music you will hear this year.   

If there is a criticism with ‘Juice B Crypts’, it might be that the absurdism never fully lets go; we are battered into a kind of spiritual nihilism by music that is intensely intelligent without being emotionally engaging. But this is the space in which the album operates—of Brooklyn warehouses, of SNES sound effects and of wild experimentation. Terrific.

Battles Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu October 24 2019 - DUBLIN Button Factory
Fri October 25 2019 - LONDON EartH Evolutionary Arts Hackney
Sat October 26 2019 - BRISTOL Exchange
Sun October 27 2019 - BRIGHTON Chalk, Brighton
Mon October 28 2019 - MANCHESTER Manchester Gorilla

Click here to compare & buy Battles Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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