In the tale of the experimental post-everything band that could, Battles are back (yes, again) with another, even more streamlined line-up. On ‘Juice B Crypts’, their fourth studio album after roughly as many internal reconfigurations, thankfully the remaining two core members haven’t lost their oddball instincts.
So, what are we left with? Well, there’s Ian Williams, who handles the keys, guitar and loosely-defined “electronics”, and John Stanier, who’s still smashing drum skins. There’s also a renewed sense of propulsion, made evident immediately by the segue from playful synth chords to rip-roaring bassline on the appropriately titled album opener ‘Ambulance’. Both members seem eager to emphasise; this is not a drill.
The rest of the record takes a “One track with us, one track with them” approach - similar to their second album, ‘Gloss Drop’ - with a massive array of avant-garde cornerstones on show: Sal Principato, Xenia Rubinos, Shabazz Palaces and Jon Anderson, to name a few. You can’t help but feel Williams and Stanier were totally freestyling, picking records off their communal shelf and saying: “Why not? Give ‘em a call!”
Thankfully then, the results are often ecstatic. Where previous records leaned into energetic post-rock, here the influence of their Warp Records peers shines through. Second track ‘A Loop so Nice’ lives up to its braggadocious name with a series of tinkling loops pulled from a lighter Autechre tape, while ‘Fort Greene Park’ centres around some Boards of Canada-esque melancholic synth lines. It’s all still recognisably Battles though, with every digital motif deftly matched by an analogue thud.
This interest in drawing upon new uncanny wells works wonders. Even weak points like the tinny repetition of the title-track sees the group toying with new ideas, they just don’t mature into fully-fledged songs. Ending on the revery of the multipart ‘Last Supper on Shasta’ (featuring Tune-Yards no less) proves one thing at least. The duo might be out playing with pals, but they can still tie a manic project into a neat bow.