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Monday, June 6, 2011

Battles: Gloss Drop (Release Date: 6-7-2011)

        A few years ago, I had the good fortune of seeing Battles play a show at Portland's Wonder Ballroom as a part of MFNW, and to this day it stands out to me as one of the best that I've ever bared witness to. The New York Four-Piece played all instrumental tunes, unless you really count the warped and looped voices that often float around their music. Instead, they focused on jamming furiously, no one ever taking the lead for too long, their chemistry simply electric. And that very electricity was what caused me extra sadness when Tyondai Braxton announced that he would be leaving the band, a forth of a mad musical science experiment gone wholly right. So while you could say that I've been looking forward to Gloss Drop, their sophomore release following the demented brilliance of their first record, Mirrored, I've also been dreading it, fearing that the singular group dynamic might be lost forever.

        And for a minute there, they almost trick you into thinking that it is. Opener Africastle begins with a lush, loop-heavy atmosphere, a calm and contented Battles, albeit still a weird one. Who are they kidding? Just before the Two minute mark, plowing, ponding drums absolutely blow the thing open. Another part proceeds this one, the song expanding into something twisted, unpredictable, and exciting, even if not every part is as good as the last. In other words, it's a Battles song. I have yet to really warm up to the following track, Gloss Drop's first single Ice Cream, as it sounds to me not unlike Magic Carpet Ride being shredded in a blender right before my very ears, but there's no denying its color or its energy. Who knows? It wouldn't be the first time that a song by this band has won me over after initially making me cock an eyebrow.

        What I will not have to grow into, however, is the rest of Gloss Drop's first half. Inchworm is playful and bouncy in a way that's damn difficult to nail without becoming either obnoxious or ingenuous, wiggling along happily for its Five minute life. Futura is a real ass-kicker, the lone guitar strums at its opening declaring business from the onset, percussion once again making the think pop right around the One minute mark. It's a welcome reminder that these guys don't always have to be grinning from ear to ear in order to put down a real track. One can almost feel the frenzy and see the eternal flashing numbers while listening to Wall Street, the most evocatively and perfectly named tune on the disc. My Machines lowers its head in much the same fashion as Futura (though at a speedier clip), while Dominican Fade spends its Two minutes as a fun, marimba-filled breeze.

        It's here, buried all the way down at Track Eight, that there finally comes a song that's a bit underwhelming. Sweetie & Shag is a fine enough tune, but it makes one critical mistake that Battles would be wise never to return to: it tethers itself to actual lyrics. It's not guest singer Kazu Makino's fault either; the band simply sounds weighed down by having to make space for discernible vocals, yet another sound to add to a mixture with quite a number of them. The same, 'take-'em-or-leave-'em,' feeling resides on the following Three tracks as well, Toddler serving as a less-than-necessary transition tune, Rolls Bayce failing to stand out as more than another Battles song, and White Electric simply trying too hard and becoming muddled because of it.

        Closer Sundome is another fun and blissful march into insanity, but its vocal samples lack much purpose, and there's little to justify its Eight minute runtime. Add it all up, and Gloss Drop is a disc that proves strangely adept at mixing the extraordinary with the mundane. It's hard for me to get as excited about it as I was with Mirrored, but there's no taking away from the fact that the first Half Hour of the thing really pops. What's more, Gloss Drop confirms that the spirit of that amazing band that I saw is still alive and well, and even if they didn't completely nail it this time around, there's still plenty of reason to celebrate: For right now, and for the future.

Grade: B

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