Battles have always been an intriguing listen; from their beginnings on their EPs to their critically lauded mind-melter “Mirrored”, with their highly experimental style and use of instrumentals over songs, the band garnered quite the cult following that often teetered on mainstream success. The news that ‘lead singer’ and guitarist Tyondai Braxton caste the future of the band into doubt with the general consensus being that the math-rock collective were seemingly dead in the water. Earlier this year, the remaining members announced their intentions to continue on without Braxton and were releasing a new album, Gloss Drop.
When the first single “Ice Cream” was released the reaction from the online music forums and blogs was distinctly mixed to say the least. It had the recognisable Battles-sound, but also reeked of a band trying to garner more mainstream success by injecting it with a pop infused feel. As a result of the single sticking out in comparison to their previous material, I went into my first listen of the album with unspeakably low expectations. Perhaps going in with this perception was ideal, after all, how many bands can last without their main creative drive?
Gloss Drop is not Mirrored and neither is it trying to recreate or repackage the feel of that album. It’s far more playful than it’s predecessor and just from listening to songs like ‘White Electric’ and the opening track ‘Africastle’ you get the sense that the band are enjoying themselves. The majority of the guest vocals aren’t too overpowering (with the exception of maybe Gary Numan who I found a little too TVOTRish),which for a while was a grave concern of mine seeing as Battles were originally recognisable with their unique usage of vocals as instrumentations instead of the forefront of their music.
The band’s sound is far more accessible and danceable than their previous efforts, potentially as a result of changing influences; it feels more indie-pop whilst maintaining the experimental edge fans will come to expect from them. The album itself it brimming with ideas and whilst they sometimes don’t fully work, it’s hit ratio is fairly high, reaching a pinnacle with the song ‘Wall Street’.
The question I wondered to myself going into the album was ‘can a band really survive the loss of it’s frontman?’ and Gloss Drop shows that it is possible, as long as you think outside of the box and alter your sound accordingly. Gloss Drop didn’t at any point feel as if it was festering leftovers from 2007’s Mirrored; it’s something new and vibrant with a greater sense of fun about it. With their sound change and progression into fun indie-pop, Battles future post-Braxton is looking as bright as the sunny outlook of this latest offering.