Sound: Though the sporadic, even Shoegaze-Esque Start to Gloss Dro's album opener "Africastle" may seemingly hint in the direction of the album as a whole upon first lesson, this is certainly not the case. With a frenetic and unrelenting beat, the concentration and main positive in "Africastle" cements and secures the sparse yet intertwined network of synth and guitars, a feature present over the course of the album.
The creative, almost jazz-like drumming, given clean and crisp production, of Stanier essentially hooks the music back from being an implosion of synths, and his fine attention to inventive and fitting drum beats is ideally the most polished aspect of the album. Also inventive is the loop-driven playing playing of Williams and Konopka, the formers playing giving a machine-like accuracy to an approach that echoes influences such as Talking Heads' "Remain in Light", and the work of Gary Numan, through the polyrhythmic drumming, which does well to replicated the "World Music" rhythms present on more contemporary albums such as Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Yet, despite such pronounced influences, the album eschews any appearance of being a pastiche, providing an amalgamation of sounds both old and new, and though arguably recognizable, the formation of the music likewise paradoxically maintains a cold introversion quality, whilst on highlights such as "Ice Cream" managing to sound warm and welcome, paradoxical qualities that give this album a ground-breaking mystique. The album has evidently been labored over, in terms of sound, a thesis grounded in its multi-layered vocals, on the vocal-laden tracks, and the flawless mastering of the looped and layered instrumentation, all adding to this mechanical "feel" to Gloss Drop. The sound is drastic and new, and arguably a step forward from the popularity of former album, "Mirrored". And despite the step of losing former singer, Braxton, Battles have proven to be an adaptable band that have used their evident almost-mathematical musical skills and creativity with sound textures to provide an album that culminates with frenzied and overwhelming musicianship whilst providing ear-pleasing hooks on various album tracks.
The only critique I can find is perhaps a lack of variety with the timbre and sounds of instruments. The dominance of what I can only describe as "clicky" and "un-rich" grated synth textures can sometimes provide a view of the album as centered on monotony, preventing a view of "stand-alone" and interesting stand alone songs. However, I for one find that this gives the album an aura of continuity, providing an experience that is dramatic and dynamic in its scope. Such detail on the music, of course, leads to somewhat of a loss with regards to lyrics of course... // 9
Lyrics: Whilst it's easy to praise the sound of this album as laboured, inventive and grounded in disparate influences, the real flaw of the album comes in its vocals. Whilst the tracks with vocal contributions are arguably the memorable moments of the album, songs such as "Futura" feel like a band simply functioning without a singer, and the loops can at times seem repetitive in an attribute seeming like dance music being covered by a rock band. However, despite this. Likewise, absurdly and confusingly, the vocal tracks can at times seem like well performed instrumental tracks with the vocals adding a superfluous quality to the band's music.
However, these moments tend to be sparse and this main grumble is presented mostly by the track, "My Machines" featuring Gary Numan. Tracks such as "Sweetie & Shag", in contrast feel like fleshed out and well constructed pop-experimental songs. Their success appears to hinge on the "rhythmic" and "melodic" aspects of the vocals. The lack of emphasis on lyrics and emotive themes, especially apparent on "Ice Cream" adds extra quality, acting as instrumental as the musical equipment used on the tracks. // 6
Overall Impression: For me, the album appeared to rhythmically draw comparisons to the tribal drumming of Animal Collective's "Merriweather Post Pavilion". This comparison stretches to the mechanical, electronic nature of the album, which manages to be all pervasive and embracing in its approach, whilst still maintaining a synthetic, yet evidently expertly crafted production style, a combination of the organic and robotic.
This is most well presented notably on "Ice Cream", on which Aguayo's singing style helps to provide a warm and funky tone to the mathematical and robotic sentiment of the rhythm section. Often overlooked, tracks such as "Inchworm" help to provide influence from a much more disparate array of musical styles, emphasizing a more hip-hop/reggaeton beat that helps to provide a warmer and more improvisational feel to the tight arrangements. Parallel to this is "Dominican Fade", again a complex and paradoxical mix.
"Sweetie & Shag", likewise is an ear-pleasing and complex addition to the album's repertoire. Again, many of these features I have discussed beforehand, and such features I find bring the album an elated and celebratory aura, impacting the listener with the power of the instrumentation, emotional despite its mechanical appearance.
The lack of the singer is disappointing, but, whilst possibly eschewing features that others may feel essential to Battles, the band have proven adaptable and brought a convincing album, enough to usurp the precedent set by their previous album, that combines and ousts expectations, drawing together influences to paradoxically create something a shining example of an album that is difficult, yet hugely rewarding, if you give it chance. // 8