Okay, I'm going to be honest about my credentials here. For as long as Battles have been on my radar, and despite the amount of praise I have heard thrown at them, I still have not listened to Mirrored. It surprises me even today that I haven't gotten around to listening to an album nearly everyone (yes, even Pitchfork) describes as a math rock classic.
The good news is that listening to their sophomore effort, Gloss Drop, makes me want to correct that oversight. Part of it is probably how sickeningly happy this album is. Pretty much every track on this album sounds like it was played by kittens shooting rainbows out of their every orifice and someone standing nearby with a camera, waiting to slap a caption in the font Impact on the entire scene. If listening to the endearingly cheerful march of “Inchworm” or the deliriously enjoyable riffs in “Ice Cream” don't make you immediately giggle like a little school girl, you may be medically incapable of feeling pleasure. Just look at the cover: even it looks like some kind of succulent sweet. Don't look at it for too long, though. Then it begins to look like a giant wad of fibreglass insulation.
Back on topic, I haven't actually heard Battles performing with Tyondai Braxton before, and therefore I really can't make a legitimate comparison between the two lineups. I can say, however, that the vocals on this album are certainly non-standard. They aren't readily standout from the other instruments, and oftentimes the lyrics are indiscernible, when not flat-out nonsensical. It actually fits the mood of an otherwise-instrumental album very well; they force the attention to the rhythm and the melody of the voice parts rather than the lyrics.
I will say that the guest appearances tend to be either spectacular or poor, without any real middle-ground. The lead single “Ice Cream,” in particular, features some quite enjoyable, if not exactly coherent, lyric work by Matias Aguayo. Bassist Dave Konopka said he was brought in explicitly to match the level of 'sexiness' to the piece, and after listening to it, it's quite apparent why he was chosen. More shouts out go in the direction of Yamantaka Eye (Boredoms) for his vocal work on the closing track “Sundome.” I couldn't decide if the man was doing scat vocals, shouting in a foreign language, or just fucking with us. Turns out it was the latter, which actually causes his vocal work to match the near-tribal ambiance of the track quite effectively.
The other guest vocal performances left me somewhat less than enthused. Both “My Machines” (featuring Gary Numan) and “Sweetie & Shag” (featuring Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead) tend to the annoying end of the spectrum. “My Machines” is just a bit too whiny to be enjoyable, and “Sweetie & Shag” is just too static to be interesting. I suppose the performances fit the songs well enough, but that doesn't make them particularly good.
The actual instrumental tracks on this album (you know, the actual majority of the songs) tend to sound like really kitschy math rock, and I mean that in as good a way as possible. Bright guitars and complex writing abound on this album. Everything about it, be it the carefree melodies, the glockenspiel-mimmicing keyboards, or just the sleigh bells in the background, is designed to be smile-inducing to the point of injecting actual Botox into your face. Even the short transitional pieces like “Dominican Fade” are hard not to enjoy, though the longer endeavours like “Africastle” and “White Electric” are clear standouts.
The only legitimate complaint I can leverage against this album would be the quality of the guitar tones. While, admittedly, the choice certainly fits the candy-filled diabetes-inducing sugar coma that this album wants to force you into, it does get a bit grating on the ears after a few listens. It's not apparent on all of the tracks, but particularly on “Futura” or “Toddler,” when the guitar lines get up in the high range and you start feeling the warm blood dripping down your neck, you'll get a feeling for what I mean.
I am quite amazed with how amazing this album turned out to be. It's just complex enough to be engaging and just playful enough to be charming. I can't exactly compare it to their previous album, but coming at them from a clean slate, I can readily say that Gloss Drop is one of the best math rock albums I have heard, period.
8.5 / 10
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