Electronic math-rock masters Battles reinvent themselves as a duo on the playful, polyrhythmic Juice B Crypts | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Electronic math-rock masters Battles reinvent themselves as a duo on the playful, polyrhythmic Juice B Crypts


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Founded as a four-piece in New York City in 2002, quirky electronic math-rock band Battles soon established itself as a force in its genre thanks to its multilayered melodies, cavorting grooves, and danceable beats. Founding keyboardist and vocalist Tyondai Braxton—who also played guitar, along with Ian Williams and Dave Konopka—departed after the band’s successful first LP, 2007’s Mirrored (Warp), leaving a trio of Williams (formerly of Don Caballero and Storm & Stress), Konopka, and drummer John Stanier (formerly of Helmet and still in Tomahawk). The transition was surprisingly smooth, despite Williams taking over on electronics in addition to playing guitar—literally single-handedly at times. Konopka left the band in 2018, and the remaining duo of Williams and Stanier have a new album, October’s Juice B Crypts (Warp), that’s totally on-brand. As the driving compositional force, Williams carries forward Battles’ love of scales, arpeggios, and polyrhythmic sequences. But he’s pushed them even further in tonality and melodic construction, going heavier on the synths to create the band’s most alien-sounding album yet. Stanier, who grounds the music’s rhythms with propulsive, syncopated beats, plays it straighter than on previous releases, acting as the linchpin to Williams’s multilayered madness. Lead single “Titanium 2 Step,” which features abstract vocals by Sal Principato of New York no-wave band Liquid Liquid, is one of the most radio-friendly tracks on the LP. But the album maintains a dichotomy between catchiness and near cacophony, such as when guest vocalist Xenia Rubinos leads a wailing intro over synth squeals on the back half of “‘A Loop So Nice . . . ’ / ‘They Played It Twice.’” And on “Sugar Foot,” featuring Jon Anderson of Yes alongside Taiwanese psych band Prairie WWWW, unorthodox vocal structures and harmonies create another type of contrast. Juice B Crypts is a masterpiece of experimental electronica.   v

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