I had never heard of Bat and Ball before I was was asked to review their latest release, ‘It Goes In’. Some research revealed that they’ve been floating around the indiesphere since 2013’s debut EP release, ‘We Prefer it in the Dark’, garnered critical acclaim. At that point, the Goldsmiths-brewed indie-tronica project was primarily studio led, focusing on Sinclair brother-sister duo, Chris and Abi, and ably supported by Harri Chambers. In the intervening years, their obvious talent has drawn a steady stream of collaborators for live performance and studio work, but they appear to have settled on a final line up, with guitarist Teo Garfath Gibelin, and drummer Ben Penfold, joining Abi (guitar/vocals), Chris on (bass/vocals) and Harri (keyboards).
The track itself is difficult to describe in conventional terms. Listening to it provokes somewhat disconcerting feelings as traditional rhythmic cadences are disrupted in favour of a stop-start train of syncopation and beat subversion. The harmony has a distinctly psychedelic twist to it, and I find myself wondering if Bat and Ball is in fact an abandoned, traumatised lovechild from a fling between The Knife and Tame Impala. The first half of track is laden with a sprinkling of strange percussive shivering noises, that raise the hairs on the back of my neck, and spine tingling bell rings. The guitars sound sharp, cutting and not altogether pleasant, and the Bristolian deep-house synth texture that forms the bridge brings in a strange eerie chord progression that fails to provide the harmonic reassurance of resolution that the listener traditionally receives at such a point in typical pop songs.
Whatever it is that ‘It Goes In’ sacrifices in terms of pleasantry though, it more than makes up for with its attention-grabbing energy and compelling drive. Music like this can often fall into the trap of being experimental for its own sake, sacrificing good songwriting in order to defy convention. ‘It Goes In’ nimbly avoids such pitfalls, however, since the restless effect of the instrumentation perfectly complements the lyrical themes in use. Abi Sinclair forgoes verbal eloquence here in favour of visceral immersion into “the gut thing” – crippling anxiety. “Fear is the energy” that propels this track irrepressibly forward, conjuring paranoid sensations of pursuit by spectral assailants. The bridge uses some particularly traumatic imagery, describing this inescapable, invasive anxiety in terms of a body sexually assaulting itself – “And it goes in to your head/And it worms in every hole/even your body betrays you”. I found that last sentence challenging to even write in the context of a review – kudos to Abi Sinclair for singing it with the conviction and sincerity that she does on the record – it must have been painful.
‘It Goes In’ is not the kind of music that’s designed to make you feel joyful or comforted. If that is what you look for from music, you will be disappointed here. However if you want your music to challenge you, force you to confront yourself, and to re-evaluate your preconceptions, then Bat and Ball is a good place to start. Value judgements can sometimes be difficult with work that addresses dark themes and employs non-conventional techniques, but in situations such as this, I fall back to Duke Ellington’s old rule: if it sounds good, it IS good. And by this measure, at least in my opinion, ‘It Goes In’ is an anxious, painful triumph.
The new single ‘It Goes In’ is out now. Catch Bat and Ball headlining London’s Old Blue Last on Tuesday 8th August 2017.