Juice B Crypts

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On their first album without bassist/guitarist Dave Konopka, Battles reinvent themselves once again with a tight set of songs that nevertheless push their musical boundaries. Their ability to simultaneously streamline and elaborate on their music isn't exactly new; after all, Tyondai Braxton's exit after Mirrored prompted them to create Gloss Drop's exhilarating mix of experiments and hooks. On Juice B Crypts, there's a similar feeling of rebirth. As a duo, Battles showcase Ian Williams' increasingly blended Ableton wizardry and guitar prowess and John Stanier's enduring brilliance as a drummer. While there are a few moments where it's obvious that the album's swift, intertwining melodies are played by a synth or guitar, more often than not, their origins are fascinatingly unclear. By contrast, Stanier's intricate, powerful playing is unmistakable, especially on the album's invigorating title track. The two of them sound more nimble than ever on instrumentals like "Ambulance"'s study in energy and entropy, and "Fort Greene Park," which sheds a more poignant light on their zigzagging melodies and triple-jointed rhythms. As on Gloss Drop, Williams and Stanier work with an inspired array of vocalists on Juice B Crypts that, frequently, help them return to their roots. This is also the first album Battles recorded in New York City, so it's fitting that they celebrate their hometown's legacy of kinetic, thought-provoking music by joining forces with Liquid Liquid's Sal Principato. On the winning "Titanium 2 Step," he's impatient, egging on Williams and Stanier as they blow the track's disco-punk shimmy to smithereens and reassemble it into different, equally aerodynamic shapes. It's almost too perfect that Yes' Jon Anderson (along with the Taiwanese experimental folk band Prairie WWWW) appears on "Sugar Foot," one of Battles' wildest, proggiest songs since Mirrored. On the other hand, Shabazz Palaces challenges them to stick to a more or less steady beat on "Izm" that ultimately hints at entirely new directions for their music. Elsewhere, they explore just how widely they can interpret the same concepts on a pair of two-part excursions with singular vocalists. The tightly gridded melody and dizzying counterpoint of "A Loop So Nice …" becomes a jumping-off point for Xenia Rubinos on "They Played It Twice," where her ululating and sweetly soaring vocals echo how Battles challenge their listeners one moment and charm them the next. With the help of Tune-Yards, Stanier and Williams perform a similar trick in reverse. On "Last Supper on Shasta, Pt. 1," Merrill Garbus' harmonies and bleepy synths build to towering heights that evoke a skyscraper made out of children's blocks that they knock down on "Last Supper on Shasta, Pt. 2" with Stanier's wrecking-ball drums. Though it's a relatively concise 40 minutes, Battles pack so much into Juice B Crypts that, perhaps more than any of their albums since Mirrored, it needs to be taken as a whole to appreciate its constantly changing, consistently engaging sounds.

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