Battles never seemed like a band that needed a rehash or a reintroduction. 2007’s Mirrored remains a remarkably singular piece of work — constantly resisting definition, right down to its iconic cover. With the extended hiatus and frontman Tyondai Braxton departing, it seemed like Battles would remain a phantom. However after regrouping and introducing of a number of guest stars, the band is ready to ride again — their sophomore effort Gloss Drop sounds almost defiant, shaking a fist at all those who were prepared to write them off as a flash in the pan.
You’d never consider an outfit like Battles vocal-heavy, but Braxton’s futuristic runs helped offer a definition to their computer-mulched sound. Without him the band sounds just as Byzantine, but without a distinct piloting force — the cluttered density of the music often meshes together in a pile that’s about as technically impressive as it is monochromatic. They’re a lot more muscle than soul.
Luckily the band seems to recognize this, and on the set-piece songs they hand the reigns over to one of their talented friends. Perennial underdog Gary Numan lends his robotic howl to “My Machines,” Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino coasts in her signature breathy cadence over “Sweetie & Shag,” the traditionally bizarre Yamantaka Eye contributes a psychedelic freakout on the carnival-esque closer “Sundome,” and Matias Aguayo transforms into a biological drum machine on lead single “Ice Cream.” All these singers are known for separating their voice from themselves in order to serve more instrumental purposes, and in that sense they fill Braxton’s shoes quite well — but nothing ever coalesces into the chemistry of an anthem like “Atlas.”
Gloss Drop is doomed in comparison to Mirrored; a debut so fully-formed often sabotages a band’s creative trajectory, based mainly on the fact that there’s very little to improve. It’s a mighty frustrating pedigree, one that sabotages a follow-up out of the gate, but divorced from all the prehistory, the record stands as a solid collection from a trio of exceptionally talented individuals. If Gloss Drop leaves you dissatisfied, it’s not that Battles have changed — you have.