Beyond Braxton

When charismatic singer and sometime-leader Tyondai Braxton quit the band, Battles were an integral man down. Just how could they continue?

Braxton’s preoccupation with his solo career meant he didn’t want tour with his three math-rocking buddies. Battles however are a band that thrives, roars and channels its visceral essence in a live setting. Touring was essential.

Their crossroads on the path to splitting was at least amicable. But eyebrows were raised. How could Ian Williams, John Stanier and Dave Konopka continue without their talisman, experimental vocalist and focal point?

That question has been robustly answered with ‘Gloss Drop’ - their most coherent, evocative and seductive recording so far. And it’s up to their trippy best too. In fact, more than ever Battles’ music confers all sorts of psychedelic visualisations, ephemeral images of architecture, arching shapes and surfaces whilst they stuff ever more vivid colours into our ears. Synthesia, the neurological condition of hearing colours, is just one step once you possess ‘Gloss Drop’.

In the permanent void of Tyondai’s processed vocals, the remaining members opted to fill the need for some form of human voice by four carefully picked collaborators. Gary Numan arrives on the caustic ‘My Machines’, Matias Aguayo, a proven king of vocal manipulation after his ‘Ay Ay Ay’ release saw him create the entire album from his own throat, also turns up. The final two pieces of the jigsaw were comprised of Yamantaka Eye from The Boredoms and Kazu Makino from Blonde Redhead, both tethering Battles’ astral jaunts slightly closer to the Earth with recognizable lyrics.

Battles formulate their music in isolation from one another before uniting their dialogues into one unique story. This part of their sound design is crucial to the end result: “The narration of our songs is very natural,” reveals John. “Our songs tend to take on a life of their own from the very early stages. A ‘seed’ idea in the beginning might give off an obvious vibe, but once everyone gets their hands on it the end result is very often totally different than the suggested route.”

Often part of Battles’ problem is their sonic ideas harmonising. Dave explained to Clash during their writing phase in January that integration can be difficult, so just how much of a problem can three voices be when fighting it out for space within their sound? “I was beginning to feel like that a while ago, but now that we are a power trio I feel our message is much more direct and to the point. Within our music, we are in constant conversation.”

‘Gloss Drop’ may exhaust some listeners, but probably will invigorate more. Before we depart the band and await their splintering shows with receptive minds, ready to dance to their architectural planes, we want to know what legacy the recording has left with the band.

“I’m not sure the dust has settled yet,” says a cautious Dave, “but at this point, the most puzzling element to me is the amount of emotion that has been wrung out in the making of this album, and how much of that comes through in the music. And that is something of a gift that was never anticipated while we were making this album, and something that can certainly not be faked.”

Words by Matthew Bennett
Photo by Harley Weir

Read Clash's review of Battles' new 'Gloss Drop' album HERE.

Read the full interview with Battles in the new issue of Clash Magazine, out now. Read more about the new issue HERE.

Access the digital version of the issue HERE and subscribe to Clash magazine HERE.

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