Battles are known for a few things — chiefly, there’s the thunderous wizardry of drummer John Stanier, the melodic juxtaposition of heavy bass and guitars with high-pitched techno squelches, and the off-the-wall cartoon vocals of Tyondai Braxton.
But the New York techno-rock crew took a blow in late 2010, when Braxton announced his departure for the band. Doubt arose about whether they could carry on without Braxton’s distinct vocals and superior musicianship. With Gloss Drop, Battles’ first album since 2007’s breakthrough Mirrored, Battles confront any and all pessimism head on, with favorable results.
While the new record does bear the brunt of Braxton’s absence, the group soldiers on without him for another set of candy-coated industrialism that is wholly unique and enjoyable. To make up for the loss of their vocalist, Battles enlists a few guests to take the mic — some you may know (industrial pioneer Gary Numan, Kazu Mikino of Blonde Redhead), and some you may not (Matias Aguayo and Yamantaka Eye).
Aguayo’s “Ice Cream,” the lead single, gives a peek into a new direction for Battles, opening with carny-organ and primal panting by Aguayo for an odd counter-rhythmic intro, which then gives way to 3 1/2 minutes of sugary-sweet organ repetition. “My Machine” is a commendable stab at Numan-esque industrialism, with mechanical loops, ominous undertones, and relentless high-hat taps accented by Battles’ trademark pin-drop synths.
Makino adds a little riot-grrrl sass to “Sweetie & Shag,” while Eye takes a Japanese dub-step approach to perplexing album closer “Sundome,” one of a number of songs to utilize a steel drum-like synth sound that is about the only thing unbecoming of Battles on the record.
But like in previous efforts, Gloss Drop excels with its instrumentals. Opener “Africastle” kick off with almost foreboding guitar echoes and jaunty synth riffs, then follows angular guitar lines down the wormhole to an explosion of drums, bass, and ice keys, only to break down, rebuild itself back up, and then ease out the back door.
“Inchworm” swirls around like crazed circus music, “Wall Street” rushes by with yo-yo’ing synths and melodies that suggest a grown-up soundtrack for old “Sonic the Hedgehog” games, and “Domincan Fade” takes a decidedly Latin take at industrial music. Though there is a little filler towards the end, Gloss Drop is another gloriously ridiculous aural assault by Battles that proves that there is life after Tyondai.