Battles’ 2007 release, 'Mirrored' was something of a sensation. The lead-off single 'Atlas' was an underground (and even mainstream) hit and the album uniquely broke through into dance from math rock. The follow up 'Gloss Drop' has taken four years to produce – a very unusual interval in these present times - and the quartet has become a trio with the departure of multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton, son of a famously musical father.
So has lightning struck again in the same place? Truthfully, not quite. I greatly respect the musicians involved and their pedigree – in particular guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams’ work with Don Caballero and drummer John Stanier’s work with Tomahawk, one of my very favourite bands. 'Gloss Drop' certainly starts strongly with the first track 'Africastle' a pounding opener.
'Ice Cream', with guest vocalist Matias Aguayo, is a worthy single release and the energy continues right through 'My Machines' (featuring vocals by Gary Numan) and the nicely named 'Sweetie And Shag' with vocals by Kazu Makino. It’s tight, solid and sharper edged than 'Mirrored', even if the ideas thin out as the album progresses.
STREAM: Battles - Sweetie & Shag (Featuring Kazu Makino)
But as the song goes – "It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing" – and whereas 'Mirrored' had an innate funkiness (as indeed did the EPs that preceded it), 'Gloss Drop' is angular and slightly blown out in a muscular sort of way. I can only put this down to the departure of Tyondai Braxton and in particular his use of his voice as an essential part of the mix. Without Braxton's contribution, the music is drier and much less sinuous.
That’s not to say it’s bad – 'Gloss Drop' stands as a fine album but without the secret ingredient that made its predecessor such a phenomenon. Maybe next time around, John Stanier could call up his Tomahawk band-mate, super-vocalist Mike Patton to put the swing back. Either way, 'Gloss Drop' despite its narrower appeal is a very cool, heavy math rock album with some standout tracks, particularly those with guest vocalists. Sadly, it will probably be viewed as a step backwards for Battles.
STREAM: Ice Cream (Featuring Matias Aguayo) by BATTLES
'Gloss Drop' is available to purchase at your local retailer, iTunes or Amazon.co.uk.