In mapping out the dimensions of Battles, it’s all relative. One member down and four years since their 2007 debut Mirrored, the reconfigured remainder stands in formation on Heaven’s stage two days since the release of their second album Gloss Drop. Three astride, Ian Williams was flanked by one keyboard on either side at a 45 degree angle, drummer John Stanier and his ridiculously tall high hat took the centre, while Dave Konopka multi-tasked as guitarist, bassist and cover artist –as kindly pointed out by Williams during end of set band member introductions. Even the lighting seemed to fall into line as its angles swathed across the stage. Yet there was something wholly human about this new and, I daresay, improved line up. They’ve been accused of lacking soul in their cerebral prog rock of the past, leading to the inevitable associations with the 90s math. Now though, Battles have embraced the fashion for YouTube-propagated world music and taken a welcome step toward the joyous rhythms and pop sensibilities of melody.
As the son of avant-garde composer Anthony Braxton, it could very well be the departure of core member Tyondai Braxton that has freed up the band to explore a less restrictive territory beyond music-by-numbers. Adding new soul to their sound, they’ve even assembled their own dream team of other musical innovators –including, the likes of Boredoms’ Yamantaka Eye, the synth-pop cheese of one Gary Numan –and allowing them to do as they please with their tracks on the album.
Then live, rather than offer these vocal renditions as the ghosts of a faceless backing track, Battles was accompanied by two high-definition panels offering projections of Kazu Mankino’s head and torso singing straight out to her audience for the feminine touch of ‘Sweetie and Shag’ or techno producer Matias Aguayo giving up his Chilean accent to first single ‘Ice Cream’, along with a quirky dance routine.
Master of ceremonies Stanier took centre stage, drumming in a turquoise shirt, soon turned dark blue with sweat, as he led the band through it’s rhythmic to and fro. His presence was sorely missed when he ducked out for the near two-minute lead-in of ‘Africastle’, as were the others whenever one fell out of line. But where the old Battles would lead its audience heaving through a painful search for an end to rising tension, this new outfit is more merciful. Shorter build-ups offered a quick release before bursting into melody, while some of those idiosyncratic high-pitched key sounds and overlapping layering remained. Battles leave us in no doubt that they’re still the same band, just that little bit better.
‘Gloss Drop’ is out now.