Battles – Gloss Drop (WARP)

Battles GlossDrop CDpackshot

There has been rather a lot of talk around ‘Gloss Drop’; the long awaited and second full-length instalment of popular New York experimentalists, Battles. Most of this centred around the departure of front man, and lead vocalist, Tyondai Braxton, and it how may impact upon the dynamics of a band that received such critical acclaim and significant notoriety within their genre for 2007 release, ‘Mirrored’. The idea that Battles were a little lost without his presence only manifested themselves in the seemingly hesitant writing and production process of ‘Gloss Drop’. Whilst guest vocalists are drafted in for four of the twelve songs that make up this record, the critical response thus far has indeed suggested that, without him there, the album lacks a little something; that with the removal of a central dedicated vocalist the music is a little bereft of personality, and is too alienating of its audience.

It is hard to determine if this is just a knee-jerk reaction, or whether the critical and general public will still feel likewise in a year’s time. But I will go out on a limb and state that I, personally, disagree with this conclusion. I think it’s not only unfair, but also all too easy to poke holes in the most
notable distinction between this record and its predecessor.

That’s not to say there isn’t a point to be made over this matter, but Braxton’s departure was of his own accord, we should not be punishing the group for this and should instead look to get past it and consider what they do still achieve in his absence. Clearly the dynamic of the music has changed, but that doesn’t mean appreciation isn’t, or shouldn’t, still be taken from what they do manage to demonstrate in this latest record.

It must be noted that two of the guest singers sing in a foreign language, neither of which I can quite put my finger on with enough certainty to risk embarrassment by misplacing. Furthermore, all the vocals are amalgamated into a largely incoherent stream which looks more to add a further layer and texture to the sound rather than an actual prosaic address to its audience, so the argument of alienation is not completely unfounded. But isn’t that sort of the point of music like this? Is it really any different than the function that Braxton’s own vocals served in debut album, ‘Mirrored’?

In terms of the music itself, the explorative endeavours into experimental math rock are just, if not more, deep than ‘Mirrored’. However, the band do well to keep all of their fragments of sound held tightly together into one coherent and clearly defined rhythm; the music is tight and disciplined, almost rigid, in its composition. All the songs are driven by a fundamental beat and sound that is fast but tight, bright yet acute. The rapidly interchanged use of widely varying drums, guitar and synth licks faze in and out, but the short, tightly constructed beat upon which each song is founded remains ever present and strong throughout. Amid everything else that the listener is jarringly subjected to, this record always maintains a solid sense of structural cohesion. Their musical explorations are short and precise, the music never wanders. It is regimented artistic experimentalism. Perhaps this is really the most pertinent point to be made about the band’s newest release, and why they remain one of the biggest and more accessible contemporary acts of their genre.

In regard to specific tracks, both ‘Africastle’ and ‘White Electric’ have a more mellow appeal. Whilst still retaining every ounce of the high-tempo vigour as the other tracks, these songs have more sombre shades to their sound that communicate a modest and understated personality to the record. Matias Aguayo’s appearance on ‘Ice Cream’ provides arguably the most pop-y song of the album, and Yamantana Eye contributes towards what I can only vaguely describe as a sort of oriental disco themed exit to the album. It certainly is quite a way to go out.

On the whole, I would once again argue that, though almost making the full transition to an instrumental act, Battles have answered their critics and doubters by adding human elements to their sound, even if for nothing else but texture. Moreover, it is their iconic and highly skilled focus on vibrant rhythms which do so much to bring their music to life. Whether the critics choose to listen or not is another matter, but there is still an awful lot left on the table for those willing to get over their Braxton bereavement and give ‘Gloss Drop’ a committed listen.

[Rating: 4]

Release date: 06/06/11

Ice Cream (Featuring Matias Aguayo) by BATTLES

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