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4 stars It's been four years since Battles released their massive debut "Mirrored". An album using the math rock blueprints from guitarist Ian William's previous band "Don Cabellero" .Whilst Built upon the experimental and Avant Garde foundations laid by Vocalist/guitarist Tyondai Braxton. A combination destined for commercial failure. This however was not the case.

The album received a welcoming critical reception and the band even had their songs feature on television adverts and prime time British programmes such as Skins and Top Gear. The success of Battles boils down to the ambition of the band. Which despite their polyrhythmic, experimental and lengthy songs, they never seem at any point pretentious. They know how to carefully craft their compositions' in a way that musicians and casual music fans are going to pay attention.

The album Gloss Drop sees the band make a hugely anticipated return but this time without Tyondai Braxton. This may not seem of any importance to anyone unaware of Tyondai or indeed Battles but Tyondai's presence was usually the point of focus live and in the studio. A presence lost that I'm sure at one point affected the future of Battles.

But Gloss Drop does not sound like the difficult second album. It doesn't try to repent or make up for Tyondai's departure. This is a seamlessly natural album which flows together from one track to the other whilst still incorporating all the elements from "Mirrored" and more. Ian William's technical guitar playing and use of effects is as apparent as ever with brilliant keyboard counter points to match it (see Ice Cream).Bassist Dave Konopka and Drummer John Stainer prove to be a much underrated rhythm section with strong grooves and interesting rhythmic displacements.

The most notable difference from the debut is the addition of guest vocalists Matias Aguayo,Gary Numan (Yes the Gary Numan), Kazu Makino from Blonde Redhead and Boredom's Yamantaka Eye. Each features on four of the twelve tracks, each uniquely propelling their own characteristics and vocal traits whilst interestingly not leading Battles astray. Admittedly infectiously catchy "Ice Cream" featuring Matias Aguayo is probably the closest to pop Battles will probably ever come. It will be a surprise to some how optimistic and catchy the song sounds. But I find that something so catchy and yet so musically ambitious is a rare thing to come by and will certainly provide it with plenty more shelf life for future listening. Interestingly "My Machines" with Gary Numan completely opposes "Ice Cream" .It's a dark industrial song with highly layered synthesisers, electronic loops and earth shattering drums providing the perfect sound track to a robot apocalypse. Unusual for Battles "My Machines" doesn't have guitar featuring prominently in the mix and neither does it have many changes instead there is a wall of sound which builds on the repetitive drums groove and industrial bass line of which is typical for electro. Likewise Kazu Makino's track "Sweetie & Shagg" has an indie esque feel to it but strangely the track "Sundome" with Yamantaka Eye was far more accessible than I ever imagined. Anyone familiar with Eye's work knows he works with Noise and Avant Garde outfit Boredoms but instead I felt a more dub/reggae feel to his vocals something I usually wouldn't associate him with or Battles. "Dominic Fade" is a short instrumental weighing in at 1:48 and is the only reminiscence I can hear of Mirrored and such drum orientated songs such as "Leyendecker" and "Snare Hanger".

There are plenty of different influences integrated into this album which without a closer inspection could be easily missed and this one of my favourites about the album. Each song is like a different piece of a puzzle, each piece stands alone as it's own portrait yet when you put it all together you realise the overall picture is much bigger. It has the overall consistency their debut exposed, the important progression needed for the second album and an interesting future ahead.

Report this review (#455741)
Posted Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Some wondered whether a Battles without Tyondai Braxton could be as good as one with him; it turns out they can. Although the absence of Tyondai is felt in the vocal department, the instrumentals here are even better than on Mirrored. In general. The replacement guest singers they use here don't add much and if anything makes the songs they appear on more mainstream and radio-friendly than anything on Mirrored. The worst song on the whole album actually features the most famous guest vocalist: Synth-Pop legend Gary Numan. I haven't heard anything he has done since the 1980s, but "My Machines" does not sound like the Battles I'm used to.

The vocal songs are clearly weaker than the instrumentals. The best of them is the single from the album, "Ice Cream." This features vocals from Chilean-born dance music producer/singer Matias Aguayo. This song is the "Atlas" of the album and like that song features electronically altered vocal effects. I didn't think much of this song the first time I watched the video, but it has grown on me. A good example of a complex yet accessible song. "Sweetie And Shag" features Japanese singer Kazu Makino from the band Blonde Redhead on vocals. I'm aware of Blonde Redhead but can't honestly say that I've heard a single song by them. This is the most accessible and mainstream sounding song on the album. It's good but hardly math rock or prog.

Last song "Sundome" features singer Yamantaka Eye from the Japanese group Boredoms. Like "Ice Cream," I didn't think too much of this song the first time I heard it. It takes awhile to get going. I like the hockey arena organ played in a reggae way. The vocals sometimes reminds me of dub. Love the synth bass which sounds dub-like. Goes into a great groove with some chant-like vocals. Nice harmonized guitars at the end. I personally think it would have been a better idea to have made a completely instrumental album. Nonetheless, both "Ice Cream" and "Sundome" are great songs. "Sweetie And Shag" is good as well, it just feels out of place here.

"Africastle" is a great opener. A very moody and mysterious beginning. This song is a great example of how to groove and be complex at the same time. I like the false endings and the build up towards the end. "Futura" almost has a Caribbean feel to it. Love how this song builds itself up and just grooves away. "Wall Street' is one of the more interesting songs and a highlight. A lot going on here and it never stays in one place for too long. "Domincan Fade" has a very Caribbean vibe to it (hence the title I guess). Nice drumming here, some of which sounds electronic. Less than 2 minutes but one of the better songs. "Rolls Bayce" starts off reminding me that even in 2011 you can still create an awesome aural experience with the very stereo seperated and dynamic beginning. This song is another short but sweet number.

Apart from the vocals this does sound like the follow-up to Mirrored, which I thought was a breath of fresh air. You get the same playful math rock with the same electronically altered effects. It's surprising how much you don't miss Tyondai here. But I still think this would have made a better instrumental album. The best instrumentals here are terrific examples of what "progressive rock" sounds like in 2011. My final verdict would be a 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars.

Report this review (#458977)
Posted Friday, June 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Sugar rush!

Simply a good, fun record, albeit a very odd one at that. The music sounds just like the album cover looks (A melting brain? Bubble-gum spaghetti?) There's a playfulness that radiates from every track, even Gary Numan's robotic crooning doesn't hinder the vibe (see "My Machines"). "Ice Cream", "Futura" and "Sundome" are my favorite examples of the craziness Gloss Drop emulates. "Sweetie and Shag" injects a bit of "indie-pop" into the mix, while the brief "Toddler" could have have been inspired from some of Raymond Scott's work.

I never listened to Battles before this, so I can't compare it with Mirrored. As it stands on its own this is one awesome record. (and I do literally mean record... I bought the vinyl version, which includes a code for a digital download, btw.)

Report this review (#469830)
Posted Saturday, June 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars New Battles? New Battles!! As soon as I heard a new Battles album was coming out, I pre- ordered it on vinyl. I remember when I got it. It was June 5th (not so long ago), a day before it officialy came out. I was so psyched I got it before the rest of the world. So I put it on my old school turntable, sat down, and listened. It was the best thing I had heard this year!

Africastle begins with some guitar chords delayed, and pumping bass. After a few bars, there comes a weird synth riff thats on the off beat. That's when I realized that this was the sound for the album. Then, when the riff comes in and the drums come in, I feel at home. John Stanier brings back the Mirrored days to this synth minefield.

It took me a few listens to understand how great this album is. After a while, I fell in love. Loop- heaven Futura is the best track on the album. Ian Williams playing with his loops on Ableton and then John entering with his killer drum beats that sound just like Tonto just create a new sound that people have never heard in this edge of town.

This album doesn't have "Atlas"-like catchy moments, but songs like Ice Cream, featuring Matias Aguayo, have you singing them in the shower just the day you listened to them.

This will be a short review, since I don't have much to say, but Battles' Gloss Drop is almost as good as their previous and deserves much more recognition. 4/5

Report this review (#471241)
Posted Tuesday, June 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars 7/10

"Gloss Drop" might just be the most fun, colorful album of the year.

Battles have received plenty of acclaim with their full length debut "Mirrored" back in 2007.2011's "Gloss Drop" is the sophomore album, ad definitely the most accessible so far. In fact, this album might just be the most fun, colorful album of the year, one of those enjoyable but still complex albums a Prog fan would appreciate quite a bit, even the genre doesn't really fit when describing the album.

Whoever is familiar with Battles knows how cheerful their music sounds. "Gloss Drop" goes in no different direction; the main instrument here are keyboards and synths, that have a somewhat far-east taste to them. The rhythm section is probably the most responsible element for the attribution of the label Math Rock to the band. In fact, they are very typical of that kind of music, being fast, complex, and with many time changes. The vocals are not always present, and when they are, the special guests are the ones to get the job done, since singer Tyondai Braxton left the band in 2010,therefore leaving the band without any vocalist.

Even though the band does have a more Math Rock influence like mentioned, they also give warm welcome to Neo-Psychedelic music, Dub, Reggae, and, why not, progressive rock too. The "Gloss Drop" experience is like being in front of tons of different type of candy, and you eat it all, until maybe you get a little sick of it. Yes, it is 53 minutes long, but I do believe it gets a little boring after a while. The album is consistent to the point where it gets a little too rigid and needs a little more variety, especially for such colorful type of music. They are definite highlights, like the single "Ice Cream", which reminds a bit of Animal Collective, or the impressive "Wall Street". The opener "Africastle" is also quite good, a perfect intro for the album. The so called fillers are also, surprisingly, enjoyable, very unique sounding in both instrumentation and songwriting.

"Gloss Drop" is overall a really good release, I would easily recommend this to anyone who is fond of Math rock, but also to the whoever is into experimental rock in general. I can see why this album has been getting a lot of praise, and it certainly deserves most of it.

Report this review (#499234)
Posted Sunday, August 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Battles Loses Their Leader, Broadens Their Sound

Battles' MIRRORED is one of my favorite albums in the math rock universe, and GLASS DROP was one of my most anticipated albums of 2011. As the advance press began to come in, I learned that lead singer Tyondai Braxton had moved on. His aggressively effected and quirky vocals had been a defining feature of the debut, so most fans have been understandably nervous about the result. Many listens into this new album, and I still have mixed feelings. Rather than replacing Braxton, the band has mixed instrumental tracks with guest lead vocals. While prog boasts a number of bands who have tried this approach, it never completely works. Here, the band has diversified their sound while keeping their roots intact. The result is an interesting sampling of music, but nothing as exhilirating as their previous effort.

The opener "Africastle" begins with a throbbing, ominous tone almost reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Playfully, one of the characteristic Battles key tones comes in playing small melodic snippets. Eventually the song progresses into a more band-typical bounce with intertwining bass, guitar, and key lines. This is to be the pattern for the album, with a subdued version of the sound established on MIRRORED weaving in and out of explorations into at time pop, psychedelic, and even classical ideas. The variation keeps the album moving, and I never find myself getting bored. The vocal songs seem designed for their respective guest vocalists and contrast most strongly from the debut sound. The lead single "Ice Cream" is the most poppy of the album, and features a new key sound that I believe split the fan base when the track was released.

Despite the new explorations, there is definitely a loss in energy on this album. "Futura" dogs along, building slowly with no discrenable lead element or melody. While nicely layered, the song is blaringly missing the lead singer. Several of the instrumentals fall in this line, featuring a combined math / carnival sound with much less nervous energy. "Wall Street" approaches previous hyperness, and thereby eclipses previous tracks. "My Machines" features early 80's techno pioneer Gary Numan and a repetitive distorted guitar line that adds another sound. The final song features Yamantaka Eye who has been featured in noise projects including the sadistic "Leng Tche." The band again seems to molding to his influence and the result is one of the more interesting on the album, with what sounds like whalesong backing bouncy piano and almost tribal vocalizations.

Overall, I appreciate that the band continued after Braxton's loss, and that they chose to branch out. This album is a good addition to the catalog. While MIRRORED was a 4.5 I rounded down because it just missed masterpiece, GLASS DROP is a 3.5 I'm rounding up for adventure.

Report this review (#500214)
Posted Monday, August 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Balance of wit and power.

With an exceptional debut, Mirrored, Battles continues to provide quirk and harmony to their sound. Here you will find songs that feature guest vocalist: Matias Aguayo, Gary Numan, Kazu Makino, and Yamantaka Eye, songs that fix on a hardy groove, and unique instrumentals that progressively add more light-hearted layers to the mix. All the songs on Gloss Drop are wonderfully produced and are executed with the highest quality.

Starting with the tracks accompanied by vocals - Ice Cream, My Machines, Sweetie & Shag, and Sundome - the songs give a nice change in the album's overall vision, all having smooth compositions and wonderful blending due to Battles' nature to never go over-the-top in musicianship. The band seamlessly gels with all the singers and doesn't really feel like a jam session with some stranger pretending to lead the band. In my opinion all of these songs are real highlights of Gloss Drop because of diversity and the honest fun found with listening to them.

Ice Cream *grunts*: Beginning with an unparalleled intro, Ice Cream really grows a backbone with John Stanier's typical holy trinity (snare,hi-hat, bass) approach. He truly is the heart of this group, never coming intro the forefront with unnecessary chops but allowing his two buds, Dave Konopka (bass and effects) and Ian Williams (guitar and keys) to leave tasteful and massively catchy licks. The keyboards lay down a fairly hectic and addictive line, while he bass guitar adds its opinion every so often to give a real bounce to the song. The vocals, while lyrically are incomprehensible, add some flavor and fit right in with the fairly heavy song. *dum buh bum bum bum*

My Machines: Gary Numan joins Battles with a heavier tone and more intermittent keyboard passages to create a real powerful song. The guitars gets some real muscle here, especially the bass. Ian does a fantastic filling up the musical pores in the song with both dark lingering notes and his bright riffs. Gary Numan is fantastic here and is as powerful as a train (car). The outro of My Machines allows the band to let go and really solidify their power.

Sweetie & Shag: Here is the weakest vocal song on Gloss Drop. Though it isn't bad, it doesn't really bring anything to the table. The song gets inside you, vocally and musically, but isn't mathy in any of it's intentions. Kazu's voice is quite soft and contrasts the other singers on the album, my favorite aspect of the song.

Sundome: Creating an eclectic frame for an intro, Sundome mixes echoing upbeat keyboards, tortured guitars that immerse Yamantaka's chanting, all topped off with the fundamental sleigh bells. The atmosphere collapses into a flawless Battles jam. The music is more airy with all players in perfect equilibrium. Vocals provide a funky melody to it all. Sundome really has a natural progression that fluxes force and sleekness throughout the nearly eight minute song.

As a Math-Rock band, Battles specializes in feeling and their tight, groovy compositions. Their instrumentals feel compact, edgy, and complementary. Africastle, Futura, Wall Streeet, and White Electric are four other highlights from the album.

Africastle: After a bellowing guitar and a lurking keyboard are introduced to each other with a single tom, the song takes a turn for the better. While the keyboards are only a ripple in the wake of the rhythm section the passage remains tight. The intensity sturrs before the band takes a new angle for the last two minutes. Both syncopated drums and a distorted bass led into the whimsical electronic bow.

Futura: With a duo of loops guitars, brilliant drum placement, and some of my favorite keyboard waltzes, Battles creates a sturdy foundation for small variations later on in the song. Filled with characteristics that make-up the band's sound.

Wall Streeet: This song starts off and dominates with disorderly conduct from the band. Instead of using their trademark groove style, here you find a more free execution. Yields career-peaking musicianship for them. Wall Streeet also has a proggy bridge. Having trinkets play along with the bass guitar with an otherwise empty zone of music. Contrasts the entire mood and really feeds on the sporadic feeling on the song.

White Electric: Slowing incorporating every instrument, drum, and note, White Electric ushers in my favorite instrumental from Gloss Drop. The build-up makes you wait and gain suspense for what is coming while still satisfying you with the eccentric playing. The keyboards sewing together the others with waving playing, and the drums adding to the rising courage are fantastic. Eventually, the song becomes conversational, switching off in flaunting ability.

Gloss Drop is a wonderful album because of the joyous energy it has and unique spins it puts on the genre.

Report this review (#782617)
Posted Thursday, July 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars The sickly sweet cover of Battles' Gloss Drop hides a mostly instrumental album with clever song writing. The interplay between the players is very tight and the compositions managed to capture and hold my interest without much difficulty.

The album opens with the moody "Aficastle". This track serves as a great starter for the album with its eerie guitar and synth building up to a glorious full-frontal assault on the listener's senses.

Amongst the instrumental tracks, one of my favourites is "Futura" with it's hypnotizing rhythm. This track segues into "Inchworm" in which the percussion feels even more amped up.

We then move on to "Wall Street" which begins with a very quick succession of layered synths and beats. The pace has been picked up over the previous couple tracks and it feels like we're listening to a real heart-pumper.

Another highlight is the second-to-last track, "White Electric". At just over six minutes, I feel this one just about runs the full gamut of Battles' sound. It starts off with a slow build until it explodes into a smorgasbord of sound before eventually cooling off again.

There are a couple of tracks with guest vocalists. These include: "Ice Cream" featuring Matias Aguayo, "My Machines" featuring Gary Numan, "Sweetie & Shag" featuring Kazu Makino, and "Sundome" featuring Yamantaka Eye.

My favourite amongst these is probably "Ice Cream". It's a bouncy and fun song with a radio-friendly kind of sound. The vocals by Aguayo are nice and smooth. Ah, if only radio had better taste, eh?

The other vocal tracks aren't bad though and they do mix things up a bit over the course of the album.

Overall, the album probably has a stronger first half than second, but it's inventive enough that it never gets dull or boring. My brother introduced me to this album and I'm very happy he did. It's actually one of the freshest albums I've heard in some time and a solid recommend.

Highlights: "Africastle", "Ice Cream", "Futura", "Inchworm", "White Electric"

Report this review (#1113322)
Posted Sunday, January 12, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Second record proper from the American art-techs and though Gloss Drop could never be called boring, it shows a band almost there but not quite yet, still reaching for what they do best and fumbling in the predawn hours of their musical journey for an original and focused sound. Granted, Gary Numan and several Japanese guests make fun appearances and five years later we got the incomparable La Di Da Di, so maybe it was worth it. But this second full-length disc will not sway many prog fans to the strange and exotic pleasures of Williams, Stanier and Konopka. That's for sure.

The continuous Balalaika plectrums of Ian Williams founds Dave Konopka's stringed effects on long and lumbering 'Africastle', more in the experimental vein and not a terribly engaging first cut. But the obscene huffing of 'Ice Cream' with its Ray Davies-like whining & whimpering lightens things up. Finally 'Futura' and its attractive muted guitar chords brings the flavor and builds nicely over key walls, neat noises, and unexpected tonal colors; Vaguely industrial, seamlessly transferring to sister track 'Inchworm' and 'Wall Street' picking up a little slack.

Light and winsome 'My Machines' has synthrocker Gary Numan doing some good things over a rather Prog drone, vaguely Bowie, definitely worthy, and Kazu Makino gives a sensuous performance on 'Sweetie & Shag'. Very cute 'Toddler' reflects its title (and shows these guys could do commercial Trade music with their eyes closed), combative 'Rolls Bayce' and downright military march of 'White Electric' sums up a promising but ultimately unrealized statement of contemporary Art Rock. A very good try, though, and their next would prove the threesome's vision and skill as important composers.

Report this review (#1521775)
Posted Thursday, January 28, 2016 | Review Permalink

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