6.17.2011

Album Review: Battles - Gloss Drop


Genre: Experimental/Progressive/Post-Rock
Origin: New York City, NY

What's important to know about Battles' sophomore effort, Gloss Drop, is that it knows where it's coming from. You've got a band whose main steel support, in the form of guitarist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton, decided to quit after the critical success of their debut LP, Mirrored. With the remaining three members left in the dust and without a true "voice," they do what what any band should do once an important band member just gets up and leaves: say "Fuck'em" and continue making music anyways.

This method doesn't always work (see Liam Gallagher and/or Beady Eye), but this, in essence, is what partially makes Gloss Drop a much more impressive and kind of satisfying outing than their debut. It shows that these three musicians have the ability to move forward without hesitation and the right attitude to produce an album that feels more like a "comeback" than just another release from potential yet unfortunate washouts due to inner struggle (see Chinese Democracy).

First and foremost, Gloss Drop is quite stellar. Without Braxton, Battles make up for certain tracks with featured guests, and these tracks are some of the best on here. "Ice Cream" featuring world artist Matias Aguayo was born to be a single, bringing the most accessible elements the band has provided yet. I don't imply that it's a "mainstream" song, but it definitely brings Battles unique sound to a new table. It allows the new three-piece outfit to fit into a finer groove and gives them an opportunity to relax, given the situation. "My Machines" featuring new wave guru Gary Numan flows seamlessly as the centerpiece of the album, and "Sweetie and Shag" featuring Kazu Makino, like "Ice Cream," is just as sweet as the album cover.

The rest of the album is comprised of instrumental tracks. Mirrored featured a wonderful blend of experimental and progressive/post-rock influences so technical that it became the epitome of the so-called "math rock" genre, and, surprisingly, Gloss Drop doesn't stray far away from that same sound. I would go as far as to say it mostly relishes in them. Opener "Africastle" and tracks like "Futura," "Wall Street" and "White Electric" display a kind of epic musicality represented in the dark bass and keyboard and the sometimes heavy drum work, almost within the same vein as Mogwai or even Dream Theater. Thankfully, Gloss Drop is not solely restricted to this sound, in that it variably and thoughtfully balances between tracks as if to form some bigger experiment at play.

And play is what Battles do. There's no looking to make an impression on anyone or vying to achieve greatness here. On Gloss Drop, they're playing because they want to, not because they have to. Fact of the matter is, Battles just so happen to showcase talented and revered musicianship, and the compositions that follow suit just so happen to almost always work. They may sometimes sound like they're shooting to the stars to get your approval, but that isn't Battles prerogative. That sound actually is that good.

Let's not forget the quality on this thing. When Battles want you to hear everything, you hear EVERYTHING. Every nook and cranny is satisfied with clear instrumentation, and the effects have this natural progression that make the experience feel lofty without pretentious notions. It doesn't bombard your ears too much, though luckily their catchy harmonies make-up for it. It's also not so much a new or inspired direction from these guys or anyone in this genre, but it does make for an admirably realized and produced outing, to say the least.

Gloss Drop isn't entirely the apex of experimental rock, but the word "joy" instantly comes to mind with just one spin of this record. It's certainly an outstanding effort from a band that you would think, given the situation, would be found left with failed potential. Battles have overcome their mishap by still providing the same attitude, effectiveness and mind-boggling musicality found on their debut, while also composing some of the most accessible tracks the band has put out yet. It doesn't confine you to its sound, but it will most likely have a grip on you from start to finish.

4.5/5

Take a listen to a couple tracks below and let us know what you think of the reformed Battles and Gloss Drop, now available from Warp Records.

Battles - "Ice Cream" (feat. Matias Aguayo)


Battles - "Wall Street"


-DJ