Thursday, June 30, 2011

Battles - Gloss Drop

I hate playing the bad guy. I really do. And it's such a rare thing. I'm not that hard to please, I'm really not. I'm easier on my criticism than a lot of critics and reviewers out there, but for some reason I'm just not liking this album as much as I'd hoped to. I don't dislike it, not at all, but it's just not as great as what I was expecting. Which may very well be my problem.
Battles is a small experimental rock/math rock band based in New York. They're kind of what you'd call a super group, even though none of them have been in anything all that well known. If you're curious, go look them up on Wiki. Anyways, so this group had one album previous to this, Mirrored, which came out in 2007 and was their first album. Back then they had one more member than they do now. That was Tyondai Braxton, who was a vocalist (wouldn't say "singer") and multi instrumentalist. He was a very major part of the band and gave it a big part of it's mood, which was hyperactive, fun, yet experimental and technical. His voice was far from accessible but most people grew to love it within minutes, me being no acception. So if you can't tell by how I've talked about it, I really enjoyed their first album. A lot of people did. So when word got around that Tyondai left, and they were making a new album, there started to be a lot of wondering. Wondering how it would sound without that very distinct addition to the music. And they have changed, kind of.
Since their vocalist left, I assumed they would become just an instrumental outfit, like a lot of math rock bands are. But then they dropped their first single from the album titled "Ice Cream", which had a guest vocalist. One who was also very experimental with his vocals (sorry, I know nothing about this guy so I can't comment much more than that) but I wasn't a huge fan of. The song was very fun and eccentric like their old album, but for me it just didn't feel the same. It felt... I guess "forced" is the word I'm looking for. Like it was trying to hard to keep that same feeling as the old album but to me it just felt like it was a mask they were trying very hard to make look real. And on the full album there are four songs with guest vocalists, and all those tracks kind of stand out to the rest. Because while the songs here have a lot going on, lots of instruments and great production, they just don't feel as stand out. While they are experimental and have a lot of change ups, most of the time the main riff or beat is in the foreground for the entire song, and most of these songs are quite long. The song will start with the main instruments, after a bit they add a layer, then they add another, and continue for usually about a minute, then drop the layers and have a short transition, then start with what sounds just like the beginning of the song again with maybe one or two minor changes. Then they start adding layers again. And it repeats like that for most the songs. This isn't the case for every song, but that's what it felt like. The songs without guest vocalists all seem somewhat similar too, at least to me. And usually by about halfway into each song I'm getting the urge to skip the song, which I don't do often. Hell, I listen to prog rock and ambient music. But there are just points where the instrumentation just kind of loses my interest, even though it's on the experimental side. The album feels too long for it's mood. Really fun and eccentric music is often better fit to shorter albums, and shorter songs. Otherwise it slowly feels like you're having less and less fun.
And while this album is most definitely fun and eccentric, like I just said, it seems like a toned down version of their previous full length to me. It's lost some of it's charm but it's trying to keep it. If Battles where a person and each album was a phase of it's life, Mirrored was it being a hyperactive ADHD kid that was really good about keeping it's family and friends entertained and has a reputation for being the funny one, while Gloss Drop is the same kid in his early teen years who has somewhat matured but is trying to keep that same charm he used to have, succeeding sometimes but for the most part it's just not the same. If you hear this without hearing the first album you probably won't see what I mean. So I guess for me it feels like this suffers from "Sophomore Album Syndrome". Where you love a band's debut album so much, then move on to the second with very high expectations, so high that it's almost bound to disappoint you, even if it IS very good in itself. I know there are a ton of people who are praising this album like no other, even ones who loved their first effort. So I'm somewhat alone on this one. But I really can't help how I feel about it.
In the end I still give this album a recommendation. If you like experimental music, math rock in particular with a heavy focus on eccentricity and fun instrumentation (not to mention great production), than I highly recommend you give this album a listen. Since so many others are liking this better than me, you probably will too. So don't take my pessimism too seriously. I just have to be honest about my opinion. I can say, whether good or bad, this is probably the most fun and optimistic album of 2011 so far. Give it a try and see what YOU think of it.


Favorites: My Machines, Rolls Bayce, White Electric


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