Battles BattlesDross Glop
Battles are the champions of musical mathletics, if you will allow me a small nod to Foals. The now trio survived abandonment by the virtuous Tyondai Braxton, who everybody thought was a key member, without their beefy rock becoming flabby. “Gloss Drop” (Warp, 2011) was a fibrous album and a worthy follow-up to their debut. The symmetric images of the geometric “Mirrored” (Warp, 2007) made way for the endless staircases of “Ice Cream”, the song that best summarises an album that grows spirally (as “Atlas” held all the essentials of “Mirrored”). Braxton's high-pitched vocals were replaced with collaborations with Gary Numan, Kazu Makino ( Blonde Redhead), Yamantaka Eye (Boredoms) and Matías Aguayo. Although those vocals are missed live, their second LP ended up being a complex assembly of luminous prisms; a vast and colourful kaleidoscope. Furthermore, they did so without losing their sense of humour. Seriously: Battles are fun in their own way, odd, if you like, but enjoyable even to those who - upon hearing the word “progressive” - get nightmares about never-ending sessions of mental masturbation. “Gloss Drop” was pleasant like a visit to a fancy fair on acid: a carrousel going faster than is legally permitted a piece of candy floss that’s way too big, twisted and crazy. As pictured on the sleeve and declared in the song: “ como un helado derritiéndose” (“like melting ice cream”).
Now, forget everything I said above. What I'm talking about here is a remix album, so what's on it doesn’t necessarily have to be in tune with Battles' eccentric sound. “Dross Glop” (Warp, 2012) compiles the four 12” EP the band have been releasing since February, including the most recent one featuring remixes by Brian DeGraw, Gang Gang Dance, Hudson Mohawke and LCD Soundsystem's Pat Mahoney & Dennis McNanny (Run Roc Records, formerly on DFA). Previous contributions came from Kode9, The Alchemist, Shabazz Palaces and even the legendary Kluster (in their latest incarnation, Qluster, directed by Roedelius), among others. Rather a succulent list of names, added to other illustrious artists who have had their way with Battles' material before, including Four Tet and The Field, the latter of which are featured here as well.
“Dross Glop” isn't very different from any other compilation of heterogeneous and disparate material. It doesn't even sound fun in the way I talked about “Gloss Drop” before, so it's best to just listen to the remix collection without prejudice, and without expecting a final satisfying conclusion. If anything, you could say most of the artists chosen by the band are moving in or near the field of electronic music, and their contributions either take the originals to the dance floor or the sofa. Nothing new or odd, as Battles' compositions could be seen as electronic collages played by a live band with physical instruments, where the rhythm is always at the forefront.
Silent Servant is one of those who take it to the club, with a dark, minimal and buzzing version of “Inchworm”, defined by Battles' John Stanier as “a religious epiphany at 9am in Berghain”. Kangding Ray moves in a similar way with his atmospheric and rough remix of “Toddler”, the original of which is hardly more than a playful interlude. Two experiments that sound different than the band, which to some might be good news, but to others, I'm afraid, a lost opportunity to set up a dialogue. In that sense, I prefer Kode9's revision of the totem-like “Africastle”. Here Steve Goodman transmits the modern mythology of his label Hyperdub, without sacrificing the tracks original ethnic echoes; thus manufacturing a brand of technological and danceable folklore around Battles I find more balanced and definitely more exciting.
Hudson Mohawke goes the same way, enriching and expanding the industrial “Rolls Bayce” with his own hip-hop and IDM sound in a mix that - oddly enough - is more festive and more true to the Battles sound than the original. Other interesting ideas: the icy beauty Qluster applies to “Dominican Fade” turns it into a cold gem that is one of the highlights on the compilation; and Shabazz Palaces reconfigures one of Battles' strictest songs, “White Electric”, as a bubbling and subaquatic piece of rap, sometimes robotic, sometimes trippy.
The least successful parts are remixes of the best tracks on the original album, starting with the accidental hit “Futura”: The Alchemist only adds more layers of post-apocalyptic sounds to the already heavy atmosphere of the original. Furthermore, in my humble opinion, the reworks of the band's three greatest hits fail too: “Ice Cream” (which Gang Gang Dance's Brian DeGraw hardly gets anything out of; surprising, what with his band being no stranger to eccentricity and all kinds of percussion); “Sweetie & Shag” (on which The Field confuses priorities, leaving out an unbeatable vocal part by Kazu Makino in favour of some utterly boring textures). Not forgetting, of course, “My Machines” - the brilliant piece sung by Gary Numan, the nightmare on the amusement park that was “Gloss Drop”, which Pat Mahoney and Dennis McNanny should have turned into their unique disco inferno. Instead, they came up with something that is just weak. If you want to dance, go with the happy sounds Gui Boratto used for “Wall Street”, which is just straight up dance floor love that should be played on radios all over the world. By the way, on the CD version of “Dross Glop”, there's a bonus track, “Sundome (Yakatama Eye Remix)”, a final jam of percussion and dub for those who've held on until the very end.