'Cellar door' is a curious example of phonoaesthetics in which the phrase is more attractive than the object to which it refers. I suspect that the audiophile band Battles were aiming for a similar effect with the title of their latest album 'Gloss Drop'. However, while 'cellar door' is a delightful moniker for a drab domestic fixture, the product behind Gloss Drop is as pleasant as the handle that opens it up.
Vocals will be the divisive factor on this record considering the four guest singers the band brought in to fill the gaps frontman Tyondai Braxton left with his departure in 2010. The first glimpse of new material from Battles arrived earlier this year with the stunning video for 'Ice Cream' featuring Chilean Matias Aguayo; it will probably remain the signature track of the album due to the perfect merging of a boisterous guitar tune with Matias' changeable vocals. The inclusion of Gary Numan on 'My Machines' seems like a big deal and, while the 80s icon does deliver a positive note to the song, the entire effect is a disorientating mid-point that sounds like every motor in an engine room clamouring to be heard above the din. 'Sweetie & Shag' hears the band get it right with Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino's characteristically sultry strains steering a gentle course through turbulent soundwaves. Yamantaka Eye of Boredoms does well with 'Sundome', closing with an exhilarating squall that would have been better placed in the stead of 'My Machines'.
If further conviction is required in relation to the titled wordplay in Battles songs, opening track 'Africastle' is the perfect example, an indication of how they use rhythm to build superb structures. Faultless musicians, Konopka, Williams and Stanier are clearly still attuned to clever polyrhythmic interplay, tempo shifts and melodic experimentation, primarily by way of guitars and drums. 'Wall Street' is fun and fast-paced, accomplished filler, not striving to impress with anything particularly groundbreaking but still enjoyable, like a sweet, sharp carnival. Stripped but still lush, 'Dominican Fade' bursts with playful percussion, at odds with the plainitive cries of 'Toddler', though the two seem like a pair with only three minutes between them. In fact, Gloss Drop is longer than 'Mirrored' by just two minutes and both albums span twelve songs.
Battles excel instrumentally, the finest moments of Gloss Drop coming at the points where their aspirations are given the room to expand and contract. The pinnacles are the glorious 'White Electric', closest in style to Battles' 'Mirrored' past, and 'Futura', the pivotal track, its title the leading subliminal message of Gloss Drop. Battles have continued their work as a seamless outfit who know exactly where their strengths lie. Unique voices subjected to instrumental interpretation, they appreciate the meanings of sound and are grounded in their understanding of method, replacing linguistics with a math rock formula of glottal and bilabial stops, dipthongs, plosives and trills. Futura should be the album's biggest hit and maybe in the the next four years we'll hear more like this.
Perhaps Tyondai Braxton's vocals polished Mirrored to a high sheen but Gloss Drop proves that without him Battles have not lost their lustre.