The experimental math rock duo, Battles, returns after a four-year hiatus with a great 2019 album. For those who are unfamiliar with the math rock subgenre, it is a primarily instrumental based genre featuring odd time signatures, irregular starting and stopping, dissonant chords, and angular guitar playing. Unlike other prominent math rock bands such as Hella and Don Caballero, Battles utilizes a synthetic approach via the use of loops and synthesizers, whilst still retaining the organic, complex drumming of contemporary math rock artists.
There are two key features that really sell this album: the drumming and loops. For an album with only half the tracks featuring vocal accompaniment, the best are the instrumental ones. We even get a never-before-heard combination of math rock and hip-hop via a feature from experimental hip-hop duo, Shabazz Palaces, on the track 8. IZM.
As great as it is, Juice B Crypts isn’t perfect. Track 3. They Played It Twice is a fantastic song that transitions beautifully from 2. A Loop So Nice… , yet has an abrupt ending that takes you out of the listening experience. The self-titled track 9. Juice B Crypts, though not awful, does feel all over the place and a mess compared to the rest of the track listing. Then there is the achilles heel of the album, 10. Last Supper on Shasta Pt. 1.
After listening to the entire Battles discography, this track is by far the most grating in the band’s catalogue. The vocals are unappealing and it takes the mess of 9. Juice B Crypts and amplifies it tenfold. Excluding the vocal atrocity on the aforementioned track, the remaining features are wonderful. You have the previously mentioned Shabazz Palaces, and others such as Xenia Rubios, Jon Anderson, the groovy Sal Principato, psych duo Tune-Yards, and even Taiwanese band, Praire WWWW.
Though it’s unfortunate the band’s long time bassist Dave Konopka left the group before this album, it has reinvented their sound for the better. With less instruments the songs feel more concise than ever. A big gripe with previous Battles’ records is how there are always one to three tracks that hamper the listening experience. The songs either take too long to progress or the progression and instrumentation is too minimal compared to the rest of the album. This album does neither of those and stands out as arguably the group’s best because of this.
Favorite Tracks: Ambulance, A Loop So Nice..., They Played It Twice, Sugar Foot, Fort Green Park, Titanium 2 Step, IZM, Last Supper On Shasta Pt. 2