When vocalist Tyondai Braxton announced he was leaving experimental rock/pop group Battles to pursue his solo career, a collective gasp went up from Battles fans. Did this mean the end of the group? If not, who was going to replace Braxton? And what was going to happen to their anticipated sophomore album?
The answer came with the release of Gloss Drop, which finds guitarist Ian Williams, bassist Dave Konopka, and drummer John Stanier carving their own calypso-tinged path with the occasional aid of guest vocalists such as Gary Numan. As a result the album is largely instrumental, but as vocal-less bands like Dub Trio prove, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the songwriting experiments with range of influences from steel-drums to video game music.
Gloss Drop opens up with the throbbing, moody pulses of “Africastle,” which leads into a Spaghetti Western beginning before being pummeled along by Stainer’s hard beats. “Ice Cream” features the catchiest groans and moans courtesy of Chilean vocalist Matias Aguayo before it flips into a sunny Jackson Five meets reggae rock twist. The instrumental “Futura” is a grooving calypso sound melded with guitar riffs and the build of an ominous haunted-house organ.
“My Machines” with Gary Numan provides an energetic, dark-toned song featuring rocketing drum beats and an upbeat pace that contrasts well with Numan’s distinctive voice. Another standout is “Wall Street.” With its spastic synthetic touch, this song could be the Mario “Star Theme” theme music in a video game based on traders and stock brokers. Greed is good? In this “Wall Street,” speed is good.
Having most of the album based around instrumentals though, can leave the listener with one problem. Some of the electronic bleeped songs seem to meld into each other, as can be the case without vocals to guide you, but most songs on Gloss Drop have enough originality to stand out.
Fans looking for a copy of Mirrored might be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean the album won’t grow on them. Gloss Drop is not as straightforward and succinct as Mirrored, but the experiment still works here. Of course, it was a loss to the band to have Brandon go, but considering Battles is doing the best they can with what they’ve got (and what they’ve got is three talented, innovative musicians), they’ve more than risen to the occasion. Gloss Drop is a bouncy, rocking departure that might just end up being the soundtrack to your summer.