Thursday, June 16, 2011

Battles- Gloss Drop

Whether or not you'll enjoy Gloss Drop hinges on two things the band has dropped from their debut: guitarist/keyboardist Tyondai Braxton (and his cut-up, looped, digitally processed vocals) and the sense of heavy metal/hard rock raw power that permeated some of their past songs. The first one is the biggest change, as losing Braxton wasn't like a band shuffling bassists; he was a unique element of their sound and their ostensible frontman. As for the second loss, Gloss Drop still manages to rock from time to time, but by and large it is a more freewheeling and fun record, picking up the sort of videogame-esque keyboards and funhouse, genre blending atmosphere of some moments on Mirrored. To put it in the nerdiest way possible, the change from the debut to now is like going from the original Terminator to the liquid metal one from Terminator 2. Gloss Drop is still muscular but more trim, like a long distance runner compared to a linebacker.

Similarly, it keeps taking on different forms to aid its attempts to kill John Connor. No, wait...that's just the liquid metal Terminator. All kidding aside, this record is guest heavy, which is both good and bad. These collaborative songs bring out different elements of Battles's sound (a la the liquid metal Terminator impersonating different humans) thereby exposing the band's ties to various genres and sub-genres. 'Ice Cream' is one of the primary reasons this is a more fun and freewheeling album than Mirrored, boasting an addictive stuttering organ melody on top of a general Summery atmosphere. It also has a surprisingly good groove considering the trio that makes up Battles are mostly known for their past associations with math rock and metal. In the most interesting pairing, Yamantaka Eye of the Boredoms stops by for the lengthy album closer 'Sundome', suggesting a possible new direction for the band as a genre straddling electronic/dub band. I would kill to see what Battles and Eye would do over the course of a collaborative EP or album; of the four guests, he ends up being the best fit as well as most appropriate choice for a dream replacement for Braxton.

To call Gloss Drop a disjointed album feels as much like a slight as it does a compliment. This is where that “guest heavy album is both good and bad” element comes into play. The guests pull the band in different directions and it always sounds more like Battles backing someone instead of them guesting on a Battles track. This causes Gloss Drop to lose the coherency of Mirrored, which, again, is good and bad, since this album is more accessible, grooving, and fun to listen to. Moreover, it's true that what exactly this band is and what they will sound like from release to release has been constantly in flux from the very beginning, so it's a bit unfair to say the guests are causing this. If the band seem less overtly experimental on Gloss Drop, it's only because the songs are more focused and traditional (or what passes for more traditional for this band, anyway), more like the tangible results of completed experiments rather than unedited improvisations or works in progress. Where on their EPs a dissonant, heavily electronic song like 'Rolls Bayce' might have gone on for three or four minutes, here we get by fine with a mere two. Still, the most successful experiments do end up being the collaborations; the songs without vocals invariably feel like pretty good b-sides or even above average Mirrored sequels, in particular 'White Electric.'

Gloss Drop ends up leaving the band's future even more wide open than it already was. This means that it lacks the unified feel and flow of their debut, but the tradeoff is that Gloss Drop is even more of a joy to listen to. This is the kind of album where you can just tell the band had a great time making it, and the guests help lend it a party atmosphere. This doesn't make it a better record, and in a few years time it will either make more or less sense depending on where the band goes next, assuming they ever settle on a direction or two. And you know, I'm not sure it's what they should do to begin with. At any rate, Gloss Drop is not so much a transitional album as one that sees Battles tinkering with their chemical formula before it's even been jotted down, as if a scientist kept adding more and more compounds to the mixture and calling in colleagues for their input. This results in a record that is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to even if it doesn't, as a whole, add up to truly stellar music.

4 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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