The first sound you’re greeted with when listening to “Ambulance,” the opening track of Battles’ Juice B Crypts, is a gentle arpeggiated synthesizer, playing triplets of a bubbly melody which sounds like it came from an ice cream truck rather than from an ambulance. As “Ambulance” propels itself forward, fans of the band’s last three albums will likely breathe a sigh of relief: This is the Battles that they know and love. It’s a great opener, but more cynical listeners may wonder if the group is too comfortable staying within their jittery robot-rock comfort zone, without attempting to push their sound forward from where it was in 2007. And yes, a good number of songs here sound like they could have been outtakes from Mirrored or Gloss Drop, with propulsive drumming, glitchy electronic crescendos and warped vocal lines. At a few points, the music can sound like a direct parody of its predecessors, with “Titanium 2 Step” sounding like the band trying to remake “Ice Cream” and only half succeeding.
However, it is apparent that Battles’ sound has not proliferated itself within the experimental rock scene to the degree of wearing itself out to the listener. There really isn’t another band currently doing what they are. “They Played It Twice” and “Last Supper On Shasta Pt.1” sound like robots of the distant future covering alien pop songs, only held together by the incredible, breakneck speed drumming of John Stanier while they build themselves up and then disintegrate. Both tracks rely heavily on synthesizers, which is not entirely novel within the group’s discography, but is certainly present to a greater extent on this album as a whole more than it has been in the past. They add a new melodic side to the hallmark angular rhythms the band has historically built its sound upon, and the more synth heavy songs on this album are frequent highlights.
Appearing two-thirds of the way through the tracklist, “IZM” is a song that comes out of left field. It is the most accessible song on the album by a significant margin, and also may be the best. Over a lurching instrumental, Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces delivers a series of surreal bars about inner city hustling, a song topic which, on paper, is hilariously out of place to be on a Battles album. Somehow, though, it manages to serve as the perfect foil to the complex and abstract songcraft on the rest of the album, with the song’s straightforward beat and direct lyrics only hinting at the insanity this band is capable of. The only complaint that comes to mind when listening to “IZM” is that more songs here aren’t as surprising; one imagines an album full of refreshing new directions in the band’s sound at every turn, and in that light Juice B Crypts is slightly disappointing for failing to live up to its complete potential.
Despite a few minor issues, Juice B Crypts is a satisfying release from a band still monopolizing their own unique brand of experimental rock, and is likely to please old fans and new listeners alike. Though they haven’t created another game-changing LP like Mirrored, the duo has still managed to avoid putting out their first dud, and have crafted a worthy addition to an already impressive catalog of releases. Listeners have good reason to look forward to the next Battles album, and whatever direction they might go in as they continue onwards with their idiosyncratic style of demented, fever dream rock songs.
Richard Beezley is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.