#musicmonday : Battles

Oooh! Battles have uploaded a video for My Machines.
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(This, incidentally, is why I have a mild phobia of escalators.)

I wrote this review of Gloss Drop for Collapse Board, but here it is again, to refresh your memory. (And, yes, I know Tyondai is no longer in the band, but it’s the best pic of the band I could find.)

Mirrored had some very fine tracks – the famous LittleBigPlanet theme ‘Atlas’ and the dreamy ‘Tonto’ – but it had its weak spots.  Gloss Drop is an altogether more accomplished affair: strong, confident songs – yes, songs! – because this time Battles have brought some friends.

Gloss Drop is still wilfully difficult, tinged with math-rock or post-rock or any of those other buzzwords critics throw out when frankly they don’t have a clue what’s going on. It’s also wilfully poppy – stridently and unapologetically accessible. It has an eclectic exoticness to it – ‘Africastle’ might have it in the name, but there’s something ancient and tribal about all of the rhythms here. It’s the sort of album to throw in bongos in a way that doesn’t make you want to punch a hippie in the face. Battles don’t normally bother with vocals – or at least not with discernible lyrics. Mirrored had vocal samples of indistinguishable noise, but it wasn’t anything you could sing along to. This time around, guest vocalists Matias Aguayo, Gary Numan, Kazu Makino and Yamantaka Eye turn these trippy instrumentals into proper songs with words and stuff. It’s still predominantly vocal-less, but it’s certainly not background music. Each track is intricately layered, dense, arresting and a pleasure to hear.

This has the immediacy of mid-90s Chemical Brothers at their best but is a thousand times more sophisticated. Not in a chin-stroking hipster sense, but in the sense that Battles really know how to write music very well. Gloss Drop owns Mirrored in every possible way – if the previous album showed that they had potential, this is how Battles start to realise it. It’s louder, harder, heavier and more insistent, but in an exuberant rather than aggressive way.

‘My Machines’ is the best thing Gary Numan has done since ‘Cars’. It’s the sort of music he probably set out to make in recent years, but wound up instead with fairly standard sub-NIN dross. This has the the movie-climax epicness those distinctive vocals deserve: vital, portentous, dramatic and quite brilliant. It’s a song that begs to be repeated the moment it fades out.

The mercifully short ‘Dominican Fade’, by contrast, is one of the album’s few fillers (along with the equally brief ‘Toddler’) and sounds like a keyboard preset demo clip. It’s followed by the lovely ‘Sweetie & Shag’ (featuring Kazu Makino) that sounds like the best of quirky 80s pop. If you can imagine ‘sounds like ‘Call Me Al’ in a really good way’, you’re most of the way there.

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Gloss Drop saves its high point to near the end. ‘White Electric’ combines Cardiacs with Pink Floyd’s Barretty psychedelia, highlighting everything that is good about Battles: the same thing. That combination of the weird and the wonderful. The build that seems to last forever that drags you through the track like an unstoppable torrent finally exploding into clashing noise but all the while remaining something pleasurable to listen to and foot-tappingly catchy. Bloody hell, this is good. I didn’t know Battles got this good.

Luckily ‘Sundome’ is nearly eight minutes long, because by this point, you really won’t want Gloss Drop to end. The keyboard samples sound like whalesong; the percussion like raindrops. Yamantaka Eye’s vocals come in brief, indiscernible waves, swelling to something you could almost sing along to if you could make out the words around the five-minute mark. It’s music revelling in its own glorious noise and not much worrying about what anyone else thinks of it. It’s one of the best in a gratifying year of good albums.

Battles’ last album was surprisingly good, but Gloss Drop hints at a far greater potential. Battles are one of the best bands making music right now. I’d love to see what they can do in the long term.

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