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The best magazine cover in ages was The Wire’s Battles shoot. The work of Jonathan de Villiers under art director Ben Weaver, it saw the band dressed in white jumpsuits, harnessed up, and dipped in huge buckets of pink, blue and yellow paint. The guys looked about as happy as you would be if you were strung up for a few hours in an Old Street warehouse, but forget the faces – three men suspended in bold colours was a note-perfect visual pun on the Battles’ second proper album, both in name and sound. ‘Gloss Drop’ is a big-coloured album, of shades primary enough to write POW and BANG.
Battles are a trio now, minus singer Tyondai Braxton. Gone are the minute glitches, the unnervingly precise attention to detail. Found are grooves and structures, broad strokes with bold colours. First album, 2007’s ‘Mirrored’, and 2006’s rarities collection ‘EP C / B EP’ were the work of insects, unnerving and alien. Gloss Drop is an album of the world, made human size with human hues.
Striking is the global view of ‘Gloss Drops’. As one would expect from a mathrock supergroup, Battles have always been a placeless band, but now they’re exploring the world, digging, vibing. Most obvious is the cast of vocalists – Chilean Matias Aguayo, Brit Gary Numan, New Yorker Kazu Makino and Japanese chap Yamataka Eye. The song names read like a flick through the guys’ tour snap captions – Africastle, Dominican Fade, Sundome, Wall Street. This worldliness extends to its music. Can informs most of the grooves of Inchworm, with a Gamelan-y flourish on the back beat, and Detroit techno focus on the hats while Wall Street alternates between a klezmer melody and a New Orleans carnival jazz. The past is even pushed into the mix – White Electric has brushes 1960s Conlon Nancarrow in its sardonic, clashing harmonies, 19th century romanticism in its orchestral pomp and pageantry and 1940s calypso in its steel drums. But more than any genre-picking, it sounds liberated from any locale – a hyperreal headrush, fascinated at the world. Sharply sensed, the album flecks with pure colours seen under bright skies.
Quibbles? Though masterfully played and never disconnected, this absolute embrace makes the overall effect somewhat crowded, and in choosing to focus on grooves, ‘Gloss Drop’ lacks the precise sparseness of EP C B EP or the epic purity of ‘Mirrored’. But these issues aside, you’re left with a loose, fun, extremely well made album that sounds like nothing else. ‘Gloss Drop’ is thinking about nothing else but grabbing the hotel keys and jumping out into the hot foreign night, and it would be churlish not to join in.