Battles has had a rough year. Recording its second album, Gloss Drop, was a slow process for the experimental noise-rock group that wowed music critics and fans alike with its first album, Mirrored. Since that initial release, the band has spent most of the last four years on tour. “Playing live is such an immediate interaction,” guitarist Ian Williams explains. “You play, people clap. It’s an instant Pavlovian thing. And then it was like, go into a deserted warehouse and play by yourself, day after day … It was pretty boring.”
Things took a turn for the worse when Tyondai Braxton abruptly quit in the middle of recording. The singer, whose distorted, chipmunk-like vocal loops were an integral feature on Mirrored, grew weary of the band’s rigorous touring schedule. “To do it right, we believe you have to tour the world,” Williams says. “So it’s busy, and it’s hard, and I don’t fault anyone for not wanting to do that. There were no hard feelings.”
The split was a shock. But it also galvanized the remaining three band members to complete the record with a new approach. They retooled all of their tracks and asked four guest singers (including Gary Numan and Matias Aguayo) to sing on the album, which allowed the band’s sounds to move in different directions, something that could not be done with one lead singer. “It’s like having a new instrument almost,” Williams says. “It’s interesting to explore the territory of the lineup.”
Not only has the lineup allowed Battles more room for exploration, but the smaller number of members has also turned the songwriting process into something healthier. “We would always do things to like sabotage each other’s songs,” Williams admits. “Like, if one person came up with a Hawaiian surf guitar melody, then the other guy wants to play a heavy metal guitar chord, to pull the rug out from underneath it. It’s a balance. If you go too far with that sabotage, it’s really hard to get a finished song. It was simpler now that we are only three.” The result of all of this work is Gloss Drop, Battles’ second studio album, which comes out June 6 on Warp.
Gloss Drop feels structured and crafted compared to the chaotic mess of Mirrored, but it’s still unmistakably a Battles album. It features many of the same musical themes and constructions that made that album so successful and plays with the same metallic, genre-bending guitar tones. “Mirrored was this intrepid balance of touching on accessible music that you could almost call a pop song but at the same time coming from a more obscure place. So it was a mystical in-between spot. But you can never really maintain that position twice in a row.” But the changes in Gloss Drop reveal a band in a positive transition, gaining some things even as it lost others. “You know how John [Stanier] has his cymbal 6 feet in the air? And because he has to reach further for the cymbal in order to hit it, that actually makes it more special. So making it harder for us ended up making it sweeter in a way.”