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The long-delayed second album from one of the most forward-thinking and technically impressive bands around. Since the release of their much-acclaimed debut, Mirrored, Battles have lost a key member in multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap: when New York-based experimental rockers Battles released their debut album back in 2007 it was met with massive critical acclaim - and with good reason. The band, who are a sort-of supergroup made up of former members of bands including Helmet and Don Cabellero, proved themselves to be at the top of their game in terms of musicianship and unique, totally original playing and songwriting. The album combined technical guitar work, awe-inspiring drum skills and glitchy electronic sounds that owed a debt to the likes of Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada.
Since then they’ve lost a member, the closest thing the band had to a frontman - Tyondia Braxton (son of the legendary jazz musician Anthony Braxton). As a result the band were forced to completely scrap, rewrite and rerecord their second album in a very short space of time. So how does the result sound?
Well, surprisingly given the stressful conditions it was written under, Gloss Drop is a much more upbeat, fun album than we might have expected. In terms of playing, the band are still pulling out all the stops with closely intertwined guitar riffs and intense drum rhythms. But this time around there are certainly more obvious hooks and the songs are, on the whole, shorter and more direct. The guitar parts are brighter - often sounding almost tropical - and the electronics have been stripped back significantly.
For this album Battles have chosen to replace their lost member by calling upon an assortment of guest vocalists including, notably and somewhat surprisingly, Gary Numan. On the whole this revolving door of singers works well, adding a nice touch variety to the bands sound without losing any consistency. Overall though, it’s the playing of drummer John Stanier that proves to be the star of the show. The man is an utter machine - equal parts technical and impressive as well as relentless and funky.
While Gloss Drop is very enjoyable and undeniably a success of a second album, it doesn’t quite reach the peaks that Mirrored did in terms of that album’s unique style and edginess. Still, it would be unfair to pick apart Gloss Drop on those terms - this is a great album and any musician out there should be taking notes.