Under Review: Battles – Gloss Drop

Losing a member of your band can be a difficult experience, particular if that member is your singer. Do the remaining members split vocal duties? Do they appoint a new singer from within their own ranks? Do they recruit someone as a new singer? And does that new singer try to imitate the departed singer’s style or do they try out something completely new? New York’s Battles have answered all of those questions on Gloss Drop, their first album since the departure of singer Tyondai Braxton. Where Braxton’s idiosyncratic intonations essentially served as another instrument on 2007’s Mirrored, his absence is made up for with an abundance of thrilling instrumentals and intriguing collaborations.

Guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams, bassist/guitarist Dave Konopka and drummer John Stainer are joined by several artists who share the trio’s off-kilter experimental tendencies. Argentinean dance producer Matias Aguayo provides a celebratory lift to the summery “Ice Cream,” and darkwave hero Gary Numan is united with his new generation of followers on the spooky “My Machines.” Though the guest voices help give Gloss Drop some direction, he decision to forgo finding a replacement singer is more strongly evidenced in the album’s exhilarating instrumentals.

Like a good Brian Eno record, a good portion of the experience of listening to Gloss Drop is spent in puzzled wonder, trying to decipher the disc’s otherworldly sounds. The tones that come from Williams’ keyboards and Konopka’s bass come with few reference points to sounds heard in any other context. There’s a mix of indeterminate churning and clinking on “Inchworm” and the busy “Wall Street” expertly captures the digital bustle of the business district’s daily proceedings. Stainer’s superhuman drumming doesn’t merely keep pace with these compositions, he practically steers them. The interplay between Battles’ three members (and their collaborators) sounds effortless and natural. It’s not that the band or their music hasn’t changed as a result of Braxton’s departure, but it sounds like they could’ve easily been doing things this way all along.

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~ by E. on July 1, 2011.

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