Four long years have passed since Battles released their critically acclaimed album Mirrored, a record that not only catapulted the group into center stage limelight but also broke them away from pretty much every other band in their field with their mesmerizing brand of electronic, avant garde rock. And although the New York-based act's success since their past album has been bountiful, the wait between Mirrored and their latest endeavor Gloss Drop was not a particularly easy one.
Last August the band lost their main creative engine and lead vocalist Tyondai Braxton due to the groups' "opposing ambitions." The departure of multi-tasking Braxton left a large hole in the band's blueprint, and on Gloss Drop—Battles' sophomore full-length album—most of their time was spent trying to fill that hole. Now functioning as a vocal-less trio, the group enlisted an impressive cast of singers for Gloss Drop, a move done to make the absence of Braxton a little less noticeable. Synth-pop icon Gary Numan, Blonde Redhead singer Kazu Makino, Chilean disco dweller Matias Aguayo and wildcard Yamantaka Eye of Boredoms all lend their lungs to Battles' intriguing follow-up.
Like Mirrored, Gloss Drop is another infectious, euphoric ride through short-circuiting electric guitars and piercing drum punches that quake and rumble like a stampede of giant elephants. As a whole, the album is more eccentric than their previous efforts—experimenting more with time signatures, delicate instrumental tones, ominous melodies, and innovative yet extremely complex rhythms. The album also sports a particularly multi-cultural vibe to it, seen most obviously in its opener "Africastle", which builds from distancing guitar riffs into a reverberating clash of Afro-Cuban rhythms. It's an exceptional song, and at first, one can't help but believe that the band is still capable of sounding complete even in the absence of their leader.
But as the album progresses, it quickly becomes evident that Gloss Drop boasts a silhouette-shaped gap in it that the four guest vocalists are only partially able to fill. While musically intriguing, the entire middle section of the album—from songs "Inchworm" to "Dominican Fade"—lacks in personality. The songs come off a little disorganized and chaotic, as its instrumental components sometimes feel improperly balanced and its transitions, which come abruptly, are choppy. It's as if Battles were focusing too hard on being overly creative on Gloss Drop's arrangements that it disrupted the simplicity of writing a cohesive album.
That being said, Gloss Drop definitely still has some gems within it. The track "Futura" is one of the album's high points, carried on by a towering church organ and interlaced guitars that squeal and quiver in true Battles style. Also "Sweetie & Shag", another African-influenced piece, features an uplifting, kindhearted backbeat matched with some utterly entrancing vocals from Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, making for another stellar track. In the end, Gloss Drop is challenging and experimental, yet still catchy and listenable. The album's energetic complexity may take a while to digest, but it is only proof of what a sheer force Battles can be, even without their bandmate Braxton.