Album Review: Battles

[Warp]

After the force that was Mirrored, post-rock outfit Battlesʼ first lp, Iʼve been looking forward to the follow up for some time. So when Gloss Drop, Battlesʼ sophomore lp, and their first without vocalist/loop maestro Tyondai Braxton, came along, I went and picked myself up a copy, came straight home and put it in the CD player––and then promptly forgot about it.

When I finally got around to it, it was while I was drawing. Gloss Drop, it turns out, is a great record to draw to: while not as epic in scope or sound as its predecessor, each of its twelve tracks are driven by more straightforward grooves, delivered with clinical precision by drummer extraordinaire John Stanier. Where Mirrored threatened to constantly fly in a completely different direction, Gloss Dropʼs changes are frequently more subtle, the transformations happening more often within the same rhythmic patterns. I can't believe I forgot about it.

Battles have always had amazing artwork: for Mirrored, it was shiny, metallic, and futuristic; the recordʼs cover showed a rehearsal space that looked like something in a museum of the future dedicated to showing how humans made music before the great robot wars. Concept for the next album perhaps?

Gloss Dropʼs cover––again designed by guitarist Dave Konopka––is also a perfect fit for the trioʼs new sound: a shiny, vividly pink lump of something (melted silly string?), itʼs the perfect visual representation of the trioʼs knotty and hyperactive sound, which, more than ever, comes off like a bunch of brainy, half-mutant kids bouncing off the walls after too much sugar.

After the colossal thing that was Mirrored, thereʼs been a lot of speculation about how the trio would fare without Braxton, an incredible vocalist and creative force who would be impossible to replace.

Instead of trying to find another Tyondai, on Gloss Drop, Battles have worked with a cast of star vocalists: Gary Numan guests on ʻMy Machinesʼ, Blonde Redheadʼs Kazu Makino on ʻSweetie and Shagʼ, and Chilean techno producer/singer Matias Aguayo on ʻIce Creamʼ, the track that comes closest to Mirroredʼs relentlessly inventive sound.

None take Braxtonʼs place––nobody could do that––but each bring something different to Battlesʼ sound, and allow the record a diversity that compensates for the loss of an artist who often seemed to be about fifteen people in one. (Braxtonʼs vocals were so processed and bizarre on Mirrored that I didnʼt even realise there were lyrics until I discovered them one day while looking for words to something else.)

On Gloss Drop, Battlesʼ remaining three have found a way to keep moving their sound forward, allowing themselves some outside help to do so. People looking for another Mirrored will be disappointed––Gloss Drop is not as immediate or groundbreaking as its predecessor. But, in its own right, itʼs an amazing collection of songs, the kind that grows on you after a few listens and then puts its hooks in further the more you listen. And thatʼs the best kind of record.

Sonny Day  

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