May 1, 2011

Album Review: Battles' Gloss Drop

It's not uncommon for younger bands to lose members in the early stages, so when Tyondai Braxton departed Battles to go solo last summer, it initially didn't seem like a cause for concern. The trio of Dave Konopka, Ian Williams and John Stanier decided to move forward together, saying that Tyondai's exit would allow them to work more easily toward a like-minded direction. Since vocals have never really been a huge part of Battles' music, what else would really change? It turns out a lot. Ultimately, Braxton's decision to leave has left the art rock supergroup sounding lost within themselves. While Braxton's vocals and spazzy synth arrangements fleeted around on their 2007 debut, Mirrored, Battles 2.0 isn't yet fully formed on Gloss Drop, thus leading one to believe the pretentious orchestral pop musician provided much more than quirky modulated vox to their songs. It didn't seem like this would be the result on their sophomore follow-up, either. Earlier this year, AwkwardSound said the album's first preview, "Ice Cream," -- which boasted a special guest vocal appearance by experimental musician and Kompakt producer, Matias Aguayo -- was a promising reinvention for the trio that may dismiss any indication that the man behind the mic made the band. When you compare the tracks featuring Battles' friends in Tyondai's absence with Gloss Drop's instrumentral rockers, though, you realize the inclusion of a voice actually brings out a wonderful unpredictability in them that can't be heard in the latter. Whether it be the electronic overdrive on the Gary Numan-assisted "My Machines," the sultriness and danceability in "Sweetie & Shag" featuring Kazy Makino of Blonde Redhead or the way "Sundome" featuring Boredom's Yamantaka Eye is reminiscent of the whacked-out math rock from Mirrored, it seems Battles 2.0 projects their sound better when not left up to their own devices. What more is that none of these vocal spots come close to matching the distinct quality you could only hear in a Battles song featuring Tyondai Braxton, raising the question if using these guests actually makes it more their songs than Battles'. Since Gloss Drop's instrumental takes are rather homogeneous and lack the upbeat, kinetic energy heard on their debut, LP 2 frustratingly doesn't match the same level of sporadic precision we've heard from the NYC act in the past. Battles are still far ahead their contemporaries in terms of pure, abstract talent, but Gloss Drop is marred with holes that allow too many (or too few) ideas to impede upon its space -- Something the band never seemed to allow themselves to be confined by in the past.

Battles' Gloss Drop will be released June 7, 2011 on Warp Records.

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