It’s been four long years since the New York band Battles dropped Mirrored, their forward thinking, and experimental foray into post this and that. Mirrored was a melting pot of all kinds of ingredients, from synthed out guitars, to bashing drums, to the odd collection of sound loops and vocals. When creative force and sort-of frontman Tyondai Braxton exited the band to pursue his own music, fans were left wondering exactly where Battles would go next. Could the band push the same kind of musical boundaries without Braxton and would they remain a trio” Enter Gloss Drop, Battles’ new full length that should serve as both a rebirth for the trio and a musical pacifier to the naysayer.
Gloss Drop is a quirkier record that has more twists and turns than Mirrored. Filling in for Braxton is an unusual collection of performers. Gary Numan, Yamantaka Eye of the Boredoms, Blonde Redhead singer Kazu Makino and Chilean singer Matias Aguayo who appears on the first single “Ice Cream”. Gloss Drop is a constant moving ball of electricity that is effortlessly twisting and reshaping itself. Even if you don’t like instrumental music you have to be impressed with how Battles takes complex and primal rhythms and brings them into a twenty first century math rock arena.
The album opens with “Africastle” and sets the vibe of the entire record. The guitars intro the song with an echoed strumming effect combined with small plucks of each string. It sounds as if this might be just a rolling soundscape, something mellow to ease folks into the record. Instead Battles drops an Afro-Cuban dance party into the middle of the song that’s laced with some background guitar grooves. “Africastle” is upbeat and groovy and then it changes into something much more deliberate and moody. Naturally the band follows this with “Ice Cream”, a danceable disco-rock summer anthem that’s peppered but Matias Aguayo’s stylized vocals. It’s this kind of instant turnaround that makes Battles such a dynamic force and allows Glass Drop to move forward without Tyondai Braxton.
“Futura” is a more straight ahead math rock jam while “Wall Street” sounds like Battles found some old John Carpenter soundtracks and decided to rock the shit out of them. “Sweetie And Shag” featuring Kazu Makino, is one of my favorites on the album. The drums are just slightly off pace from the music, setting up a nice syncopated feel for the song. While Makino’s magical voice moves like an ethereal python, the music grows more and more playful around the strong backbeat.
Working as a trio hasn’t slowed down Battles at all. Guitarists Ian Williams (Don Caballero, Storm & Stress) and Dave Konopka (Lynx) drain every single drop of whatever they can out of their instruments. Weird circus sounds, swinging good time keyboard work, free-for-all rock, space sounds, anything and everything you could think of. It’s almost like the guitar is the Green Lantern ring for Williams and Konopka, whatever they can imagine becomes a reality.
Holding it all down for the experimentation are the drums. Some consider John Stainer (Helmet, Tomahawk) to be just some hard bashing monolith, but he has some seriously tasty moves here. Nothing happening within Gloss Drop would work if Stainer’s drums weren’t so good. He plays exactly what the song needs without even thinking about it. Part of what makes Battles so great is that as processed and calculated as their tunes can be, they all sound organic. Science meets nature in the pantheon of math rock and artistic freedom. Sound pretentious? I don’t care, that’s how Gloss Drop made me feel.
What Battles is doing speaks largely to the future of music. Don’t get alarmed, I’m not calling them that, I’m saying their style is part of a larger picture that dictates where music is headed. So much of what’s going on is boring and as the Internet allows people to jump from band to band, musical apathy will not be tolerated for long. The idea of the rock band is changing and combining more and more with a visual art ideal. Battles and Glass Drop are a huge part of that moving forward. The future of this record will see it as part of a larger cultural shift that might save music from itself and the industry that has drained it of its life.
For now Glass Drop just kicks a whole lot of ass.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 9 OUT OF 10