When Tyondai Braxton announced last year that he was leaving Battles, the virtuosic math-rock super-group he fronted for six years, fans were left wondering if the band would remain the same sort of mind-boggling blitzkrieg. Four years after its monumental Mirrored LP, the NYC outfit drops its second, Gloss Drop, and answers the query with a commanding "Yes"—and "No."
Still boasting the locomotive power of drummer John Stanier and the painstakingly intricate melodic work of multi-instrumentalists Ian Williams and Dave Konopka, Battles' 12-song record remains as complex and alien as its previous output, if not more so. The massive "Africastle" provides an ideal gateway into Gloss Drop: You've got to climb a mountain of polyrhythmic drum patterns and interwoven melodic tapestries to arrive on the same plane as this album's heady material. "Futura"'s robo-funk, the unexpected time shifts in the bustling "Wall Street," and the slow-developing clusterfuck that is "White Electric" are all equally unprecedented feats of musicianship.
But that's hardly new for Battles. It's on the tropically infused bounce of "Ice Cream," the metallic churn of "My Machines," and the practically radio-ready "Sweetie & Shag"—when the trio creates its own hyper-real pop with vocalists Matias Aguayo, Gary Numan, Kazu Makino, and Yamantaka Eye—that Gloss Drop reveals a new sound. Despite (or maybe because of) the absence of Braxton, Battles has soldiered on into new musical territory, and discovered a place that is simultaneously confrontational and inviting, esoteric and playful, technical and infectious—and very, very good.