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Battles - Juice B Crypts CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

4.02 | 6 ratings

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4 stars Battles is another of those Post/Math rock bands that stretch the limits of the genre into some interesting territory. The band was formed in 2002 by Ian Williams (Don Caballero) and John Stanier (Helmut, Tomahawk), along with Dave Konopa and Tyondai Braxton. They mixed their sounds into a unique blend of experimental and innovative math rock, often going way out and beyond the boundaries of the genre, just like "Fly Pan Am", whose 2019 album I reviewed yesterday, Battles stretches the boundaries of the genre to the breaking point.

Battles album "Juice B Crypts", released in October of 2019, is their 4th studio full length album. The core band is down to the duo of Ian (guitar, keybords) and John (drums, percussion), but also features many guests on some of the tracks. The album is made up of 11 tracks and has a run time of 40 minutes.

"Ambulance" starts with some bright and sparkling synth loops and manipulations and then some punchy guitar effects herald in the upbeat rhythm. The guitar loops with a nice catchiness, but also works to intensify things. After some messing around with short riff style themes, the music again punches forward, utilizing variations of repetitive patterns to develop the track into a nice, happy sound, that, while keeping that experimental undertone, actually feels bright and poppy, while also being a bit complex. This great beginning is followed up by "A Loop So Nice?.", which has a more automated feel to it, at least in the robotic, electronic background. In the meantime, other synthesized and manipulated sound work to build on some semblance of melody. Even though, thus far, the album less noisy than the "C'est Ca" album released by Fly Pan Am the month previous, it is still very innovative and unique, less noisy than that album, but more attached to melodic structure.

Things get really weird though on "They Played it Twice" which features Xenia Rubinos singing pop-like vocals while her vocals swing around in the rafters above synth sounds that fly off in every direction, not necessarily in time with the vocals, and that mix of experimentalism with art-pop just messes with your head, but in a nice way. It's an interesting combination of traditional pop and avant-garde wanderings. On "Sugar Foot" however, we get two guest vocalists, Jon Anderson from "Yes" and Prairie WWWW speaking in Japanese. Again, bright synth sounds go flying off in all directions, while a funky wah wah sound flutters around and Anderson sings high, nonsense syllables. A beat kicks in and a lower frequency plays around. Suddenly, the beat goes off the rails and Anderson's vocals change around, adding in some loops and regular singing. All of the layers tend to create a bit of haphazard sensibilities, but later, it all comes together in a very fast beat with a bright and swirling melody. Just like the title, it is really sugary, but yet oddly complex and variable at the same time.

"Fort Greene Park" features pulsating chords from a bright synth and a cool guitar effect that has a percussive edge to it. These two instruments play together for a while before rolling cymbals bring about a change, a squeaky, whistling guitar pumps out some cool sounds surrounded by another guitar layer and more synths. The track seems a lot less haphazard than the last track, more focused yet also exploratory. Again, even with the flighty sound of the music, the melody still remains the anchoring force in the track, but later, things calm a bit and become more controlled, eventually the percussion falls off and we are left with the electronic sound of the keys. "Titanium 2 Step" features the vocals of Sal Principato. Again, the mood is happy and carefree, the vocals flitting around, chasing the synth and guitar lines playfully as the drums beat out interesting patterns. The feel of the track seems to be a funky, catchy, almost big-band style with the joyful vocals more of an additional instrument than resembling anything lyrical.

"Hiro 3" is a short track featuring processed piano and plucked notes playing in contrast to the piano riff. "IZM" features more vocals, this time from Shabazz Palaces. The vocals are somewhere between rap and hip-hop, but the electronics flutter and fly around it all, not haphazardly, but in a pattern with variations added in. The beat comes along with a moderate speed, but never staying in any one pattern for long. As the vocals continue in rap style, the music continues to swirl and surprise. The bright colors of the album cover completely reflect the feel of the music, colorful and bright. The title track "Juice B Crypts" comes next with a track driven by wild percussion and quick, flickering synth notes fluttering around. Heavy percussion continues, but the music remains more electronic than anything, with things eventually becoming frantic later.

Last of all is the 2 part "Last Supper on Shasta", each part taking up a separate track. These parts feature vocalist "Tune- Yards". It starts off sounding like a train starting off, going faster and faster until it reaches warp speed, then the electronic notes and drums get things under control as the singing begins. The vocals are as bright and cheery as the music, and it all comes across as sounding complex and art-poppy, much like "of Montreal". In fact, the vocalist sounds a lot like Kevin Barnes. However, it remains quite progressive all the way through. The 2nd part is distinct from the first as the rhythm takes a sudden change, remaining up beat, but more direct now. The music becomes more direct to reflect the percussion, but then everything goes wild in a looping frenzy.

So, in comparison to Fly Pan Am's new album, this one is much more electronic sounding, brighter, not as noisy, yet still complex. There is no hints of darkness on this album whatsoever, where "C'est Ca" was very dark and noisy, more experimental, yet I consider Fly Pan Am's album better than this one. That's not to say "Juice B Crypts" isn't bad, it's actually quite good. I just prefer the darkness and the use of noise and manipulation in the Fly Pan Am album better. Battles album sounds more electronic and robotic, and, though it's nice to have the vocals, it almost seems as Battles is trying to prove itself as being eccentric and relevant, when they really didn't have to prove anything. It might have been better to be less busy. This isn't the case with Fly Pan Am, who just come back from a long hiatus, and their album comes across as being much less forced than this album by Battles.

In the end though, there will be some that think this is the better album of the two, and that's fine. I just like the more organic sound of Fly Pan Am, even though it is also heavily processed. It seems to flow more naturally. This Battles album is still a lot of fun though, happy, bright and cheery, yet complex. For those that love music that sounds heavily electronic, yet is also eccentric, then you will want to check this out. It's still and excellent album with some nice surprises.

TCat | 4/5 |


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