Battles: Gloss Drop (Warp)

Sophomore albums are wont to be met with a multitude of expectations, so much so that it’s almost a custom for critics to make quote-ready disavowals of them. Gloss Drop, to be pandering ourselves (and punny), battles the pressure its critical darling predecessor Mirrored has set upon them. Making it harder for the predominantly instrumental band is the fact that they not only have to live up to the hype but also attempt to do so without an arguably pivotal member; founding bandmate Tyondai Braxton.

As cliche would have it, Battles could either attempt to maintain cohesion with the sound of their formerly quartet-self or venture outside their safe zone, both directions ripe with the possibility of failure (note Chris Cornell’s descent into mediocrity). With Gloss Drop, Battles made the right choice of straddling the line between the two – Tyondai’s distorted vocals might be lost but they are replaced with a slew of guest vocalists and the sound still remains progressive in the genre-naming sense but more restrained in the literal sense.

Funnily, it’s the opening instrumental track ‘Africastle’ that recalls the Braxton-fronted Battles the most and appeals to fans in all the safe ways – technically assured, prog-zany, amorphous and very, very danceable. More often than not though, one’s attention tends to meander when listening to the other instrumental tracks, nothing is quite as exciting as ‘Tras’ off their 2004 EP. This is not to say tracks like ‘Futura’ and ‘White Electric’ lack the immediacy of their earlier instrumentals, the latter especially is an aural defibrillator, it’s just that they don’t have the benefit of novelty anymore.

The vocal-assisted tracks, however, are almost as good as and even sometimes better than Braxton’s effects-enhanced singing. ‘Ice Cream’, featuring Chilean Matias Aguayo, is rightly chosen as their first single – the gunzo din of distortions, clickety clacks, chimes, bells, beatboxing (beatgrunting, really), and unintelligible singing makes for one hell of a track, so much so that you’d be forgiven to not miss Braxton’s vocals. Unfortunately though, the band loses some identity without Braxton as tracks like ‘Sweetie & Shag’ are more identifiable by the guest artists featured – you could easily mistake this track for a Blonde Redhead remix.

Regardless, Gloss Drop is still a testament to Battles’ status as the best pairing of man and machine next to LCD Soundsystem.

LISTEN TO: ‘Ice Cream’, ‘Africastle’, ‘Sundome’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Don Caballero, Gang Gang Dance, Panda Bear.
RATING: 3

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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FsvMyQeC-Q&feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_865418[/youtube]