Release Date: Jun 7, 2011
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Math Rock, Neo-Prog, Prog-Rock
Much love surrounds the now-threesome that is Battles. After the departure of Tyondai Braxton near what was meant to be their album release last summer, Ian Williams, John Stanier and Dave Konopka decided to start the entire process from scratch, banging out what would become their second LP, Gloss Drop. They also enlisted the help of some friends around the world—including Gary Numan, Kompakt’s Matias Aguayo and Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino—to add healthy doses of vocals that range from the dark and brooding to the bizarrely ethereal.
Nobody could have quite predicted the impact Mirrored, Battles’ full-length debut, would make. Rarely has such an unusual record managed to do quite so well. It was weird, yet accessible; strange yet instantly captivating. It ticked boxes for people well-accustomed with the pursuit of ‘something different’, and for those making their first forays into the avant-garde.
No band that sounds like Battles could be accused of doing it for the cash: The prismatic cartoon prog of 2007’s Mirrored stood a light year away from corporate, Clear Channel-certified rock. Which makes it all the more ironic that they ended up contributing to the most inspired use of music in advertising in recent memory. Hopefully, the Sony employee responsible for getting Battles’ “Atlas” into the promos for the PS3’s Little Big Planet got a heatlhy Christmas bonus that year, as the image of the game’s colorful critters galumphing around to the acid-glam number is one that still inspires buyer’s remorse in this otherwise contented Xbox 360 owner.
It's always dangerous when a band loses a key member. That's the situation Battles found themselves in when founding guitarist/singer Tyondai Braxton left to focus on other projects. It's remarkable, then, that they've delivered a sophomore album that not only maintains their tightness but also improves on it. The biggest change is the absence of Braxton's pitch-shifted vocals, which were unique but not pivotal to their sound.
Battles' dizzying electro-prog is more focused this time around... Stripped down to a three-piece since Tyondai Braxton’s surprise departure, Battles’ sophomore effort may not have a nailed-on stand-out like their debut’s ‘Atlas’ but their dizzying electro-prog has a great deal more focus this time around. Shorn of Braxton’s somewhat idiosyncratic vocals, the trio have brought in heavyweight assistance from Chilean techno star Matias Aguayo, who guests on the Latino-tinged limpid funk of lead-off single ‘Ice Cream’, while Boredoms singer Yamatsuka Eye gives Sundome’s off-kilter skank a distinctly alien feel.
When Tyondai Braxton left Battles in 2010, three years after Mirrored showed that their music could be as incredibly catchy as it was highly technical, there were concerns that a large part of the band’s playfulness and charisma had departed with him. Fortunately, Gloss Drop proves those worries were unfounded. Though Braxton's shoes are undeniably large ones to fill, John Stanier, Ian Williams, and David Konopka strike out on their own and with some well-chosen collaborators.
The cover of Battle’s 2007 debut album Mirrored pretty much summed up the point of the band for me. Enclosed in a lighted room with mirrors on the floors was a bevy of musical instruments and equipment: drums, keyboards, guitars, amplifiers. It would seem like an apt choice of cover art for a band that was largely instrumental, and tended to use gibberish voices in a highly processed, sped-up manner, making them an instrument in and of themselves.
Knocking around on the internet, there’s pictures of Bill Gates taken in 1983 of him stretched out on a desk, wearing a chunky woollen sweater and loveably tousled fringe. His face is saying, sure, I might be a geek, but this geek knows how to cut loose. If this Bill Gates wasn’t living in 1983 and didn’t have a trillion-dollar computing empire to build, he might have made a good fourth member of [a]Battles[/a].
The New York dancerockers’ arsenal yields doublebarreled thrills: songs made to steam up discotheques and stir up the mosh pit. Gloss Drop, with its syncopated beats and chiming new-wave keyboards, dials up the warmth from their math-y, angular debut and injects far more humanity than most dance records allow. Gary Numan even shows up to teach the kids how cyberfunk used to be done, with infectious, invigorating results.
Let's get one thing out of the way: Gloss Drop shouldn't really be compared to its predecessor, Mirrored. The sole Battles record to feature Tyondai Braxton's digitally cartoonified vocals, Mirrored is now consigned to brilliant one-off status in the Battles catalog; Gloss Drop, created after Braxton left the group entirely, is more of a refinement and expansion of Battles' early work. In a way, for fans, the loss of Braxton was the best thing that could have happened to Battles.
Battles never seemed like a band that needed a rehash or a reintroduction. 2007’s Mirrored remains a remarkably singular piece of work — constantly resisting definition, right down to its iconic cover. With the extended hiatus and frontman Tyondai Braxton departing, it seemed like Battles would remain a phantom. However after regrouping and introducing of a number of guest stars, the band is ready to ride again — their sophomore effort Gloss Drop sounds almost defiant, shaking a fist at all those who were prepared to write them off as a flash in the pan.
Four years have passed since Battles gained significant limelight for Mirrored, a record that saw the underground supergroup boldly stride away from pretty much every other band in the field with their tense, mechanical brand of electronic rock. Lead single 'Atlas' endeared new audiences to their math-inspired riffage and nonsense lyrics, looped and manipulated to the nth degree, while the album gave a more in-depth look at a group at the top of their game, both creatively and in terms of performance. But while every musician had unquestionable command of his instrument, Tyondai Braxton always seemed to take centre stage.
Battles are an experimental rock band who treat the studio as a playground rather than a laboratory. Their 2007 debut, Mirrored, combined virtuoso precision with disorientating humour, with singer Tyondai Braxton warping his voice until he resembled an avant-garde cartoon character. But Braxton has since left, and Gloss Drop's guest vocalists take us on a bumpier ride.
Despite their members’ relative individual star power, experimental math rock supergroup Battles seemed to sneak up on much of the blogosphere with their 2007 showstopper, Mirrored. Drummer John Stanier was a niche legend for bringing the thunder with both alt-metal heroes Helmet and Melvins/Jesus Lizard/Mr. Bungle supergroup Tomahawk, guitarist Dave Konopka made some noise in Chicago’s math heyday as a member of Lynx, Ian Williams fingertapped guitars for math godfathers Don Caballero, and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton had amassed a reputation for his orchestral loop work.
I’ll be honest: After months of listening, I’m still not entirely sure why I find Gloss Drop to be a disappointment. Maybe it’s a testament to how miraculous 2007’s Mirrored was, because at a cursory glance Gloss Drop has all the makings of a satisfactory follow-up. Yet somehow it lacks the explosiveness, urgency, and immediacy of its predecessor.
BARRY MANILOW “15 Minutes” (Stiletto) If something has been bothering Barry Manilow all these years, it’s been tough to tell. Early in his career he was a master of temperate melancholy, giving lip service to romantic pain but never venturing a real tear. For the last decade or so he’s been gamely homogenizing the great American songbook, his voice a human computer effect, sapping pop-music history of its passion, its sweat, its ache.
When considering an album’s story, there’s always a great wonder as to how much significance it truly weighs. Some could care less as the music that is flowing from the headphones has more than enough value to analyze and consider; others figure a meaning has to be corresponding with the music. As in, the fruition and the outcome has to be tied into the conception and creation of the album right? For Battles, their arch has been on display because of the abrupt departure of frontman and vocalist Tyondai Braxton after the band’s much-beloved Mirrored.
Superbly structured second LP from the New Yorkers, but it’s missing a certain something. Mike Diver 2011 Enough bands have lost members and gone on to greater successes for the departure of founding member Tyondai (son of Anthony) Braxton to, on paper, not significantly impact on the chances of Battles’ second album matching the acclaim of the New Yorkers’ remarkable debut of 2007, Mirrored. But the reality here is rather different.