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Album Review
Gloss Drop

Gloss Drop
by Battles

Rough Trade

Review Date
23rd June, 2011
Reviewed by
Ricardo Kerr

Way back in 2007 a strange blip appeared on the world’s musical radar. That blip was called Mirrored and it was an album made by a gang of rock-n-roll oddballs called Battles. It blended 21st century audio manipulation with good old fashioned guts and a healthy dose of goofiness. What vocals there were, courtesy of now former-member Tyondai Braxton, were warped and altered into nightmarish inhuman shapes. Battles and Mirrored quite rightly received a lot of attention from the music press as they were a breath of fresh air in the ‘alternative’ scene that was growing ever more stale. What they achieved was an album that prog-heads, indie kids, closet ravers, and music critics could all rally behind. Four years later they have delivered the always difficult follow-up - Gloss Drop. While it shares many similarities with Mirrored it also has many key differences. In hindsight, Mirrored feels like drummer John Stanier’s album; his deft, bruising beats drove every tune and kick-started every heady groove. Here the band sounds more in-sync and spread the heavy lifting more evenly as a lean trio. But nothing about Battles has ever been easy or minimal.

The songs on this album are divided into two categories: euphoric pop extracts with vocals and knotty, far flung instrumentals. The former number just four and bring an interesting assortment of guest collaborators along for the ride as well as spacing out the album well. They also tend to be shorter, more direct, and easier to swallow. The latter set are as challenging and daft as ever, piling layer upon layer of interlocking instruments until the songs run out of steam (see ‘Inchworm’) or collapse under their own giddy weight (see ‘Africastle’). Lead single ‘Ice Cream’, with vocals from Matias Aguayo, is remarkably reminiscent of its namesake. It starts off with a sugary rush and begins to melt around the edges and drip everywhere leaving a sticky puddle behind. But what a sugar high it is. Battles have never felt so joyous. The revered Gary Numan (who is having a strange kind of renaissance at the moment) is easily the most high profile guest on the album and his track, ‘My Machines’, fits him like a gaudy leather gauntlet. Kazu Makino from Blonde Redhead spices up the angular waltz of ‘Sweetie & Shag’ with her laconic croon and sheer cuteness. The album ends with the one-two-punch of ‘White Electric’ and ‘Sundome’, two of the spaciest numbers giving the usually dense arrangements some room to breathe. ‘White Electric’ follows a wobbly keyboard line to hell and back and ‘Sundome’ sounds like narcotic Calypso music for the terminally cheerful.

Enjoyment of this album will largely hinge around your love / tolerance for extensive instrumental arrangements and bizarre futuristic tones. The vocal numbers do what they were meant to do: provide some levity and a damned fine reason to dance. Just like Mirrored there is much to love here and will be for many years (and repeated listens) to come even if it has its slow moments. Gloss Drop will probably leave you exhausted but it’s the happy kind of exhausted that involves a silly grin plastered across your face.


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