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album review: battles, gloss drop

Is this you? Do you instinctively shy away from instrumental music and/or music that is described as ‘experimental’? Or, at the very least, do you prepare yourself for it mentally, telling yourself you’ll have to concentrate really hard if you’re to have any chance of ‘getting’ it, and therefore enjoying it? If so, then we share something in common. Despite the fact that I don’t hate instrumental music (far from it in fact – I deeply adore Arvo Pärt and have recently been getting into Clogs), it seems I am innately mistrustful of music I can’t sing along to.

But before we go on, it perhaps must be said that Gloss Drop isn’t actually completely sans vox. This is the first Battles album since the departure of the band’s vocalist, however the album features guest vocalists on a few of the tracks (though, the voices are so heavily distorted that I’m warning you now, don’t expect something you can belt along to in the car). Not to be putting vocalists on any undeserved pedestals here, but that’s a pretty big hurdle to overcome.

Yet overcome it, they do. And with aplomb.

There’s a lot of variety here, with genre blending run amok. Take ‘Dominican Fade’, a quasi-Caribbean morsel complete with steelpans, which comes a little after the frenetic, mind-pulsing ‘Wall Street’, which could easily be the title track on an eighties video game soundtrack. Perhaps the strongest criticism that can be made against this album is that many of the songs, as a result of the sound modifiers used, end up sounding like they could have been put to good use as part of some coin-operated, arcade machine. This gets frustrating at times, but there’s so much else to focus on, that it doesn’t get too nauseating.

The lead single and highlight of the album, ‘Ice Cream’, which has Matias Aguayo on vocals, is joyful to the point of being danceable (it certainly gets the head bopping in any case). It features an amusing minute-long intro, where man and instrument make hot and heavy music love, that builds up the mood wonderfully.

Add to all this the cover art of Gloss Drop, which can only be described as a kind of primordial ooze-like, pop-art impression of the brain – which could also just be a chemistry experiment gone wrong – and you have a pretty intense musical trip of an album. Confused? Curious? Not quite sure if the joke is on you? …well yes, yes it is. But don’t let that stop you from the fun of it all.

Experimental rock may not be for everyone. If it is for you, then turn it on, turn it up, and party on down. If it isn’t…all I can suggest is that you stop trying to figure it out, and just turn it on, turn it up, and party on down anyway.

Battles are soon to be playing around the country at the Big Day Out.

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