Gloss Drop by Battles (Warp Records, 2011. 52 minutes)

Battles is an avant-garde rock band from New York City. Originally formed as an underground supergroup, each musician carried successful careers outside of the band being associated with groups such as Don Caballero, Lynx, and Helmet. The band began with Ian Williams on guitar, Dave Konopka on bass, John Stanier on drums, and Tyondai Braxton on vocals and guitar. The band released Mirrored, its first full length, in 2007 to glowing reviews. In 2010, Tyondai Braxton left Battles to work in solo projects. With a hole in the vocalist department, Battles recorded its second album, Gloss Drop, with stand-in singers. Gloss Drop peaked at 98 on the Billboard Charts.

Summer Camp

For many youths, summer means vacation. With unlimited time and idle hands, many parents judge summer camp as an excellent option to keep their children busy until school commences. These camps, with unbridled, optimistic counselors and a disconnection with the real world give children the opportunity to become a caricature of their normal selves.
The children’s talents and personality traits expand, blend, and take unique forms away from home. At summer camp, youth encounter flings, form meaningful connections with people they might never see again, and make assurances that no sane person could ever keep. The lovebirds promise marriage; the crazy kid vows to wear a mullet on the first day of school; and the artist rethinks creative influence.

Summer camp is an altered reality.

Battles: Musicians Recording for Musicians

Photo by Oliver Spall
For those unaware of the psychotic sounds of Battles, imagine a band of virtuosic musicians forming at summer camp. Not only through a unique sound, but also in presentation – drummer John Stanier performs with an 8-foot-high crash cymbal almost impossible to reach – Battles blends tight, almost house-like rhythms with tapping guitars and effects loops to create an otherworldly, circus-like sound.

Gloss Drop exists as a continuation of the basic formula first presented in Mirrored with the slight twist of a missing member. One signature portion of Mirrored was Tyondai Braxton’s signature effects-laden voice.
Without his vocals, Gloss Drop leans heavily on instrumental tracks only dipping into vocal-centric tunes four times in total.
Nevertheless, Gloss Drop remains imminently challenging. The timbres channeled through guitars, bass, drums, and keyboard are nothing short of extraordinary. Every note betrays the world-class talent behind the instruments. Clearly, Gloss Drop is a record by musicians for musicians.

Self-Aware Lyrics

Lyrically, Battles’ rotation of singers provide a dada-esque palate to compliment the sounds. The first single, “Ice Cream,” sung by Matias Aguayo, riddles in a foreign tongue,

“Dame un helado derritiéndose.”

Or with a quick Google translation, “Give me melting ice.” Of course, the lyrics provide no meaning outside of describing the sonic textures surrounding the words. Just like Mirrored’s hit single, “Atlas” proclaiming, “The singer is a crook,” “Ice Cream” offers meta lyrics that are self-aware of their existence within the song.

It’s all about the Music

More important than lyrics, however, are the sounds. For me, “Africastle” and “Futura” stick out as exemplary tunes. With heavy grooves, mind bending guitar riffs, and high energy, these songs contribute danceable rhythms and complex musicianship.
In all honesty, Gloss Drop is a difficult record; I doubt many recreational music listeners will find enjoyment in it. Truly, the album sounds like a group of musicians noodling during a summer camp. However, Gloss Drop offers a challenge for musicians. If you fancy yourself an artistic type, I believe Battles supplies enough merit to suit your fancy. With excellent musicianship and an out-of-this-world summer camp aesthetic, Gloss Drop is an excellent record.

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