Gloss Drop is a mystical beast. It is a much more jovial, playful and direct collection of songs than its predecessor Mirrored yet was born out of an acrimonious split between the group and its lead singer Tyondai Braxton. The remaining three members of Battles have gone on record as saying that this incident has not contributed to the album’s notably livelier tone, but one cannot help but feel that underneath the flamboyant flourishes lies a tangible desire to distinguish this record from previous material.
For any doubting that Battles’ dynamic would be offset by Braxton’s departure, the pounding opener ‘Africastle’ involves the three members spilling out interlocking rhythms which culminates in the finest track the group have ever committed to tape. ‘Ice Cream’ comes dangerously close to masquerading as a pop song, Ian Williams’ delectable keyboard licks bouncing effortlessly off Dave Konopka’s crunching bass. This new found pop aesthetic is a far cry from the lurching, spluttering intro of ‘Tras’, seeking to launch Battles into the unchartered waters of Brooklyn’s musical landscape.
As can perhaps be expected, certain tracks smack of a lack of invention as the three-piece tentatively flesh out their recently established sound. Konapka’s bass on ‘My Machines’ (featuring Gary Numan as a guest vocalist) sounds like it’s being dragged through gravel and leaves the listener pining for the earlier, more melodic moments on the record. The guest vocalists in general remain loyal to Braxton’s avant-garde approach, with Kazu Makino and Yamantaka Eye coating ‘Sweetie and Shag’ and ‘Sundome’ with a sweet, gloopy psychedelia.
The album’s second half does suffer from a dearth of ideas on occasion, a criticism rarely levelled at Battles. ‘Rolls Bayce’ and ‘White Electric’ glide by inconsequentially but it is the album’s denouement, ‘Sundome’ which suggests that Gloss Drop represents the maturing of Battles’ sound as opposed to its radical redevelopment. A seven-minute sun-drenched wonder, it is possibly the first track in Battles’ canon which does not rely on the propulsive drumming of John Stanier. ‘Sundome’ contains no cymbal-crashing climax but is content with looping along unhurriedly, signifying a distinguished progression from the relentless pace often assumed by Battles’ previous material.
Gloss Drop is not the sound of a phoenix rising from the ashes but of a self-assured trio possessing every confidence that they can become a band which may come to characterise Brooklyn’s blossoming math-rock scene.
From Ben Hickey