When Battles joined Warp five years ago, they were the latest signing to make purists question if the label had lost sight of its electronic roots. But, more than !!! and Maximo Park before them, the New York band proved their relevance, with a debut album (Mirrored) that shattered their live instrumentation and reassembled it into a kaleidoscopic sound collage. Its approach and aesthetic justified their place in electronica.
Gloss Drop sees Battles operating without the direction of nomimal leader Tyondai Braxton, a trained composer who has opted to pursue a solo career collaborating with the likes of Prefuse 73. He takes with him many of his "orchestrated loops," and leaves behind a trio of gifted, but less dextrous, instrumental improvisers. While cocking an ear to G-funk, trance and jangly pop, guitarists (etc.) Dave Konopka and Ian Williams frequently call on their math rock schooling, and drummer John Stanier—who hits harder than ever—betrays his years behind the kit of post-hardcore band Helmet.
The instrumentals that comprise two-thirds Gloss Drop occasionally allow Battles to run wild into exciting new terrain, like the stop-start ska funk of "Futura" and the slow-build uphill roll of "White Electric." However, the missing magic of their previous work, the otherworldly quality of Braxton's sampled and treated voice, leaves a hole that guest vocalists fail to fill. While Kompakt artist Matias Aguayo and singers from the Boredoms and Blonde Redhead will bolster the band's hipster cred, the requirement to produce something resembling a song as a backing track builds a cage from which Battles rarely break free.
Bizarrely, the clear standout on Gloss Drop is a collaboration with aging goth Gary Numan. "My Machines" comes close to the melodramatic metallic nightmares of Angel Dust-era Faith No More. Whether or not you like the sound of that is a good litmus test for how you'll feel about this, a Warp record in name alone.
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Tracklist: Battles - Gloss Drop 01. Africastle
02. Ice Cream feat. Matias Aguayo
05. Wall Street
06. My Machines feat. Gary Numan
07. Dominican Fade
08. Sweetie & Shag feat. Kazu Makino
10. Rolls Bayce
11. White Electric
12. Sundome feat. Yamantaka Eye