REVIEW: Battles – Gloss Drop

The sweet sounds of sharp math, courtesy of Battles.

For what it’s worth, Mirrored was the ultimate album. This is not to say that it’s the best album ever (though it’s very, very good), but it is everything you want it to be. It’s the best album for driving fast, or for long car trips. It’s an album to get you pumped for a first date, or for a job interview, or for a kickass workout. If Battles were to have ended things right after that album, it would have destroyed a life of possibilities, leaving behind a legacy contained in one excellent record. What more could you want? With a frontman as charismatic and hyped as Tyondai Braxton, and a drummer as wild as John Stanier (who is, in my opinion, the only man capable of matching the Don Caballero powerhouse Damon Che), where is there to go wrong?

“Where is there to go wrong?” is a sentence that, in any great movie, spells doom. When Tyondai Braxton left the band to pursue his solo career a year ago, I was sure it spelled the end of Battles, and I know I wasn’t the only one. And yet, here we are, on album two, Glass Drop, which sounds almost nothing like, but everything like, the album that Mirrored was. Battles has always been a band that sounded like what math rock sounds like: they make the sound that equations might make if they were able to buy a Moog in their spare time. It’s a lovely racket, and it translates perfectly live, which is truly hard to find in dance music these days.

Replacing Braxton on vocal detail is a string of guest stars, ranging from the fantastic (Yamantaka Eye from fellow tribes-people Boredoms) to the punchline-esque (Gary Numan, which is better than it sounds, I swear). It’s easily possible that Braxton’s chopped-and-screwed vocals were what propelled Mirrored as an amazing album, and it’s probably true that the band will never make a song like “Atlas” again, a song that, to this day, feels vibrant and propulsive. However, the guest stars do actually make up for the hole left by Braxton, and adds to a sound something like Gang Gang Dance, if they put down the crack pipes. “My Machines” (the Gary Numan song) feels startlingly unique, and doesn’t cash in on any of the Numan-like quirks that it could have used; it sounds perfectly in place, and unless you know who you’re listening to, it’s easy to forget who you’re listening to, if you catch my drift. It’s definitely a great thing, and it adds a great new texture to things.

Glass Drop also packs a lot more emotion than its predecessor, which makes the ride a lot more interesting on repeat listens. Where a song like “Tonto” on Mirrored was stunning but somewhat out of place, its sonic siblings here feel like a truly deliberate part of the landscape. It means that you’re going to want to hoot and holler and pump your fists less than the last time around, but the upswing is that you’re actually going to enjoy the hills and dips, rather than wanting to leave for a smoke break when a song like “White Electric” starts up. I haven’t had a chance to see what these songs sound like live yet, but I imagine it makes for a new monster when the band plays live, which is a great change for a band that was already one of the tightest live acts in the new American avant-garde landscape. This is an album that other bands in their class could take notes from, and it may easily end up spawning scores of copy-cats, which doesn’t quite have to be a terrible thing.

The record clocks in at just under an hour, but it never actually feels like that. Those highs and lows mean that the trip is almost more of the ultimate record than Mirrored was, because now, we have its twin. And that twin is okay with your gym workout, but also has no problem sitting in on your drunken lovemaking, or night-time drives through the countryside, or really anything you could possibly want from it. Who could ask for more?

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