At the centre of Satoshi Kon’s final film, Paprika, is a parade like no other. Woven from dream fabric, a colourful melange of animated household items, frogs, pachinko robots and a dizzying array of additional miscellaneous figures – including the Statue of Liberty – sway and frolic through an inchoate dream city. The cavalcade of riotous imagery should be joyful and celebratory, and yet in Kon’s capable hands the scene is rendered unnervingly empty. You see, there’s no leader of this parade, no purpose or destination; it’s a mindless enfilade without beginning or end.
Battles’ third LP recalls that imagery; in part for the better – thanks to a sonic palette that recalls the chaotic circus energy of Paprika’s parade – but mostly for the worse. La Di Da Di is the first Battles record conceived entirely without the input of Tyondai Braxton, whose yelpy, pitch-shifted vocals made their debut, Mirrored, so memorable. Granted, those vocals were entirely absent from follow-up Gloss Drop, but that album’s restless experimentation felt impelled by his absence – whether by tapping guest vocalist Gary Numan or merely striving for something new to accommodate Braxton’s exit.
But La Di Da Di – despite the extravagance of its sonic palette – lacks any such sense of direction. Much like Kon’s parade, it feels like a circus without a ringleader – vibrantly conceived yet ultimately brittle, hollow. It’s important not to overstate Braxton’s influence – he’s the group’s co-founder rather than frontman – but this album misses him dearly nonetheless, stringing together instrumental tracks that are technically impressive… but not much more than that.
What made Mirrored so memorable was how it channelled the cerebral artiness of math rock towards a pop-friendly edge with an eye towards the dancefloor (as anyone who’s busted a move to “Atlas” can attest). Outside of opening track “The Yabba” – which uses its seven minutes to conjure a narrative, a personality that requires no vocals – La Di Da Di feels like an artistically ambitious exercise without an audience in mind, destined to fade into the background.