By Maxwell Weigel & Caroline Smith —
Instrumental rock trio, Battles are anything but a typical rock group . Utilizing the power trio format yet avoiding many of its pitfalls, they shy away from lead vocals, extensive solos or direct pop songs. They form their songs off of loops, improvisation, textured electronic sounds and scattershot rhythms. Each track they release straddles the line between an intricate composition and a jammy freak out. Their latest album Gloss Drop follows a four-year silence from the band, who had not released an album since 2007 due to their lead singer Tyondai Braxton’s departure from the group. One can only guess what happened in the process of Gloss Drop’s creation. The pink, amorphous sculpture photographed for the album’s cover, however, reflects their thought process at the time, a shift in their music, and the album’s whole mood.
Battles’ guitarist Dave Konopka sculptured the object, claiming “…essentially it’s a big pink blob, of nothing.” He continues to detail its construction, referencing the object’s organic, uncontrolled quality and how he had no set process or idea in mind for its design. This creative process mirrors the improvisational, irregular nature of the music itself, which starts and stops with little warning as to when one section or instrumental line will begin or end. Just as the songs are not written or organized to fit any strict compositional format, the sculpture gathered volume randomly as Konopka gathered ideas about how to create his band’s new sound.
Whether he intended it or not, Konopka’s sculpture evokes something both delectable and disgusting. At first glance, some might identify the object as the subject matter of the album’s second song, “Ice Cream;” on closer inspection, the ice cream melts into some kind of sticky, intestinal concoction straight out of a science fiction movie. Although gross, the object has an organic quality reminiscent of a brain. How the image combines the sweet and the sordid, the visceral and the intelligent, and the colorful and the metallic embodies the music well. Their tunes feel as if they could explode one moment as they congeal into a tight groove, and pound primal rhythms into your head while sounds in various polyrhythms integrate themselves into the beats. Their sharp, lightning-quick sound brings the imagery of a brain, well, to mind, as one hears noises shooting off in all directions much like neurons spark synaptic connections. While heady, Battles never strays too far from a saccharine, candy-coated, hyperactive sound that melts in your head like the aforementioned ice cream. Smart yet fun, Battles has crafted the perfect image to embody their new album’s enjoyable chaos.