Gloss Drop By Battles
The somewhat enigmatically named ‘Battles’ is not so much a band as they are a living, breathing organism. Since their 2004 formation, the group has churned out a stream of muscular releases, with thee EP’s and their 2007 full-length debut, “Mirrored.” Known heavy exercises in experimental flourish, Battles have taken a few risks within their short career, and suffered a few pitfalls in between.
Perhaps the biggest so far was the announcement in 2010 that founding member Tyondai Braxton would be leaving the group in pursuit of a solo career. For such an avant-garde act this came as a surprise, as Braxton would be the closest member of the group that one could describe as a “front man” with his pitch-shifted vocals and teased out curls that became a staple of their pulsating live performances. Its an almost Bon Scott type loss in comparison.
With this year’s “Gloss Drop” Battles have proven that when a piece of the machine comes loose, the best thing to do is forge on. Without Braxton, the band continues their intense brand of prog and kraut-rock fusion with no signs of slowing down. As a three-piece the band have found a new intensity as well as a new bandleader in drummer John Stanier. This guy deserves some sort of award. He is a rhythmic juggernaut and displays virtuosic capabilities behind the kit, pumping life into a band that almost seemed to have lost its purpose.
In the absence of the group’s lead vocalist, the album also benefits from a stellar lineup of guest singers, including new-wave icon Gary Numan and the angelic Blonde Redhead front-woman Kazu Makino. But best of all is the appearance of Cologne by-way-of Santiago dance producer Matias Aguayo, who turns in a wild and playful performance on the summer jam “Ice Cream.” A song that makes you wish the band would consider turning this trio back into a four piece, as the groups primal and interweaving rhythms play well behind Aguayo’s high pitched yelps.
It is never easy for a band to recover from the loss of its front man. In most cases, they are the point of entry for most listeners and the overall defining characteristic to any musical act. But on “Gloss Drop,” Battles have proven that they should not be so easily defined. They are an ever-changing and expanding musical force, and one that shows that, sometimes, in order to move forward a band needs to simplify.
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