10 06 2011

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Gloss Drop

9 out of 10

Avant weirdos throw a guest vocalist dance party

by Jericho Cerrona
June 10, 2011

Battles are from New York City. They are a three-piece. They play a frantic style of experimental prog-funk-something rather. Their debut full-length was 2007’s seminal Mirrored; an album that ended up on many critics’ best of the year lists and branded the band (then a four-piece) as absolute musical virtuosos. Multi-instrumentalist/singer Tyondai Braxton, who utilized crazy sped-up effects pedals on his vocals throughout Mirrored, has since left the group, regulating Gloss Drop to a variety of cameo vocalists. These include synthpop pioneer Gary Numan, Kazu Makino from Blonde Redhead, Argentinean DJ Matias Aguayo, and Yamantaka Eye of Japanese noisemakers Boredoms. Though each member brings their own distinctive eccentricity to the proceedings, Battles have never been known for their lyrics. They are, in essence, a highly creative instrumental outfit that happens to use vocals as part of their overall sound.

Opener “Africastle” begins with a languid intro before exploding into a typical Battles arrangement, with zigzagging drums, lightning fast guitar lines, and some very proggy time signatures. Lead single “Ice Cream” is perhaps the album’s one true anomaly, sounding like Animal Collective gone reggae, featuring DJ Matias Aguayo’s chipper lead vocals and a fairly straightforward arrangement. It’s certainly catchy, but may turn off fans that appreciate the denser and more off-kilter weirdness the band is known for. There are also afrobeat influences on the jungle-hop tune “Inchworm”, insane chord progressions and almost retro-sounding 16-bit video game keyboard bursts on “Wall Street”, and Gary Numan’s robotic vocals surging along with drummer John Stanier’s bombastic kit work on “My Machines.”

The underlining effect on Gloss Drop is one of complete immersion, and though there isn’t anything quite as stunning as the song “Atlas” from Mirrored here, the band has nonetheless refused to hit the dreaded sophomore slump. Undoubtedly, the previous LP was a bona-fide game changer, an album that worked on nearly every level. Gloss Drop is at times a bit more scattershot and prone to a filler tracks, such as the dispensable “Toddler” and meandering “Rolls Bayce”, but the band still harnesses a powerful ability to combine heady walls of interweaving sound with incredible creativity and skill. For example, the Caribbean tribal rhythms are meshed so thrillingly with jazzy art metal riffs on “Dominican Fade” that it’s entirely natural to become completely engrossed.

Battles are making music that is singular, uncompromising, and rare. On Gloss Drop, they continue to experiment and redefine their heady mixture of funk, electro, world, and dizzying math rock. While this sort of layered progressive musical stew will not be for everyone, the album is so playful and guest vocalists so memorable, that the entire album feels utterly alive.

“Dominican Fade” by Battles

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