[17 April 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Dross Glop is a distinctive album, though for reasons likely not intended. It’s not that it’s great or horrible, it just manages to take Battles’ exceptional sophomore album Gloss Drop and make it far less interesting and original. Remix albums usually don’t enjoy glowing reputations, especially if the source material they are mirroring is something that operates outside of club beats. But the New York City post-rock heroes of our day are quite enthusiastic about club culture and hip hop DJs. Fans who invested in the group’s singles and EPs will remember the songs “Tonto” and “Leyendecker” already getting numerous makeovers at the hands of the Field and Four Tet. And with such a tremendous album to stand behind, one would guess that an endeavor like this remix album would really have to kick ass before Battles put their stamp of approval on it. But the most interesting thing about Dross Glop is how it isn’t interesting.
If you have not heard Gloss Drop by this point, you really should. Their hyperkinetic full-length debut Mirrored was terrific whirlwind of perfectly hammered-and-nailed instrumental rock that left little room for indulgences. Despite their mathematical precision and symmetry, Battles maintained a very unique identity that had plenty of weird sounds in its arsenal thanks to multi-instrumental prodigy Tyondai Braxton (son of Anthony Braxton). When Braxton left the band, many doubted that Battles would fulfill their artistic promise. Not only did they have to survive the sophomore slump but they had to do it as a trio too. Along came Gloss Drop in 2011, blowing away all doubts. Some things had changed from their 2007 debut, some things had not. But Battles remained great, extraordinary, and evolutionary. Dross Glop doesn’t really reflect any of this. Many of the elements that made the original album so grand either went missing or got sanded over in the mixing desk. With a few exceptions, the remixes are longer than their counterparts – in other words, dragged out considerably. Some of the remixes maintain the identity of the original song and others are close to being unrecognizable. Of course the whole point of a remix album is to provide a new dimension for the music, to give the listener a glimpse of a musical parallel universe where the sounds didn’t have to land “just so”. The best remix albums can capture the listener’s imagination and take it down bold new paths. But in this case, if you want bold imagination, you really should side with the original Gloss Drop.
The list of remixers includes Gui Boratto, the Field, the Alchemist, Shabazz Palaces, Kode9, Silent Servant, Kangding Ray, Qluster, Brian Degraw, Hudson Mohawke, Patrick Mahoney, and Dennis McNany. The members of Battles—Ian Williams, John Stanier, Dave Konopka—pretty much handpicked their own club culture dream team for this. So perhaps they are too star struck by their remix cast that they failed to notice how unexciting these new versions of “Ice Cream” and “Futura” turned out to be. Gui Boratto’s rejiggering of “Wall Street” strips away layers of the composition, making it, for better or worse, more suitable for the dance floor. Kode9’s remix of “Africastle” does something similar, boiling the template down to the synthetic pizzicato and then taking it for a ride over stylish techno beats. And what Qluster does to “Dominican Fade” is the equivalent of giving someone a total face transplant, turning what was an unassuming interlude into something from Pure Moods. “Inchworm” and “My Machines”, the latter retaining the guest vocal track from Gary Numan, get the moodier end of the stick for sure, staking territory in electronica’s dark underbelly.
If Dross Glop hadn’t preceded this album, I might think more highly of it. Some of the changes applied to these songs may not strike Battles fans as good or bad; some may just find themselves being neutral to the whole thing. But “neutral” is not a word that should apply to Battles’ music.