On its 2007 debut, Mirrored, Battles seamlessly reflected a prism of colorful influences, whether it was the hardcore and math-rock sounds of the members’ former bands, the jazz in their genes, or techno’s punchy elasticity. In contrast, the force behind Gloss Drop is like Henry Rollins’ fist on the cover of Black Flag’s Damaged, smashing a crack in the glass, and if not fracturing, certainly encouraging more separation in the sound. The change in direction is largely circumstantial: After de facto frontman Tyondai Braxton departed the group midway through the recording of Gloss Drop in 2009, drummer John Stanier, guitarist Ian Williams, and bassist Dave Konopka were left with the unenviable task of re-assembling their sophomore record with guest vocalists.
The results in part are exceptionally defined genre works like “Ice Cream,” a joyfully demented reggae-organ shuffle buoyed by an ebullient steel drum and the scatting riddims of Chilean dance maestro Matias Aguayo; Gary Numan’s signature mono-droid tones on the pulsating, industrial “My Machines,” which also features some of Stanier’s meatiest organic BPMs; the bright noise of Blonde Redhead songstress Kazu Makino’s contribution to “Sweetie & Shag”; and some expectedly alien sleigh-bell dub inspired by album-closing guest and head Boredoms weirdo Yamantaka Eye.
Gloss Drop’s remaining tracks hew closer to Mirrored’s severer leanings, as exemplified during the spooky percussive clang and staccato guitar menace throughout “Futura,” the blippy Aphex Twin reminiscence of “Rolls Bayce,” the post-rock reconstruction of “White Electric,” and the manic compression of the album’s highlight, “Wall Street.” Battles’ sophomore full-length is arguably more perseverant triumph than massively accomplished successor. But for a band that’s prided itself on spontaneous adaptation over calculated formula, the experimentation with vocally rooted material could hint at an amazing next step.