Album review: Battles, “Gloss Drop” (Warp)

June 13, 2011

Album review: Battles, “Gloss Drop” (Warp)

While the New York experimental combo Battles faced a major challenge in crafting its second studio album—replacing Tyondai Braxton, whose looped helium vocals were a big part of the brilliance on “Mirrored” in 2007—the mistake made by remaining members John Stanier (Helmet, Tomahawk), Ian Williams (Don Caballero), and Dave Konopka (Lynx) was thinking that they needed to bring any other element into their gleefully genre-defying digital dance party.

The best moments on “Gloss Drop” are the instrumentals, from the giddy carnival romp of “Rolls Bayce,” to the acid-spiked piña colada of “White Electric,” to the Ennio Morricone-on-Mars excursion of “Africastle.” And if none of these quite pack the exuberant punch of the Braxton-fueled “Atlas,” well, they still are better space-age bachelor pad music than anything I’ve heard of late besides Clive Tanaka.

Braxton’s treated vocals always were just one element in a complicated mix—and they often were unrecognizable as vocals, anyway—so the cameos from synth pioneer Gary Numan (“My Machines”) and the Boredoms’ Yamantaka Eye (“Sundrome”) are not only unnecessary, but distracting. Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino fares slightly better with her sexy siren song on “Sweetie & Shag,” but Battles’ strengths remain in the undeniable grooves and the disorienting rush of frantic melodies the source of which can never quite be pinned down. Riding along, you spend half your time wondering, What the heck is that? And the rest you simply spend enjoying.

On the four-star scale: 3 STARS