As a quartet, Battles have concocted some of the most gleefully bizarre, yet rhythmically precise art-pop in the Western Hemisphere. So, the departure of effects-loving singer and multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton from the band last year surely signaled a shift in dynamic for the band. Yet, while the band that stirred up the giddy sonic confetti on 2007’s Mirrored is the lineup that has gotten them the most mileage, it’s easy to forget that Battles, initially, was a duo. Changing shape, both physically and musically, is practically a part of Battles’ identity, and with the alteration in personnel comes more experimentation and further exploration into pop mischief on their second full-length, Gloss Drop.
Battles may not have a “frontman” anymore, so to speak, but the group’s instrumental dynamic remains as tight as ever. Gloss Drop‘s opening track “Africastle” begins the record much the same way that “Race: In” kicked off Mirrored. Dave Konopka and Ian Williams offer impressive fretwork acrobatics and video game synth bleeps over John Stanier’s heavy, yet light-footed beats. It’s a sonic creation that only a trio of seasoned professionals could construct, yet those professionals would also have to be just a bit demented to come up with something so alien and yet so intensely grooving at the same time. The same goes for “Futura,” in which the band gets a bit funkier, and “Inchworm,” which is essentially their artful and trippy take on calypso.
Yet, while Gloss Drop continues to be a showcase for the band’s pyrotechnic instrumental skills, it is not strictly an instrumental album. Four different guest vocalists step in to lend human, or at least humanoid, voices to the mechanized madness at play. Yet each song sounds carefully tailored to its respective vocalist, which can’t always be said of albums loaded with such features. For instance, Gary Numan helms a pummeling, industro-rock monster in “My Machines,” a pulsing rocker that recalls Killing Joke or The Young Gods’ “Kissing the Sun.” However, Matias Aguayo’s effects addled delivery on the choppy psych-funk of “Ice Cream” is not too far removed from the kind of lyrical mischief Braxton once added. And while the carnivalesque post-punk of “Sweetie & Shag,” with Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, is almost normal by Battles standards, “Sundome” is anything but, largely thanks to the bizarre vocal affectations of The Boredoms’ Yamantaka Eye.
In a very literal sense, the Battles of Gloss Drop are not the same band they were on Mirrored, but much of the same aesthetic qualities of that record have stayed intact. The trio remains one of the most simultaneously playful and proficient bands in indie rock, and though they have made a few concessions toward accessibility, even radio friendliness, they haven’t lost their uniquely wacky identity in the process.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.