Battles — “Africastle”

Previously, I’ve written about how my fear of avant-garde music was undermined by my diving headfirst into Battles. Now a trio, but still a supergroup of sorts, Battles are to release their second album, Gloss Drop, on 6th June, and all the signs suggest that it is an unintentionally easy listen. Surprising, given its troubled gestation.

The album opens with “Africastle”, the band not having given up on delicious song titles, and the song is an instantly stunning, shape-shifting composition. The intro suggests a rising, malevolent force, with Morricone-esque washes of guitar rattling beneath vaguely threatening pings. But the song quickly morphs: a lone thump of John Stanier’s bass drum, a cyclical figure played on god-knows-what instrument, and then we’re thrust into a giddy and thrilling passage which forms the bulk of the song. Whereas several songs on Gloss Drop feature turns from guest vocalists, “Africastle” is totally instrumental, and all the better for it, scene-setting what sounds like an otherwise esoteric collection of songs. At the 3:30 mark, the song turns back in on itself, with a spare and brutal bridge, but it seems as if the band can’t resist lightening the mood, and so this too drops out in the final minute, in favour of what sounds like a broken-down Game Boy telegraphing an Oriental motif over dry shards of synth and a rumbling bass drum.

What an odyssey, and it’s all over in less than six minutes, leaving the listener washed up on a distant beach, littered with mere fragments of the musical signposts we’re accustomed to. It’s great to have Battles back with us on Planet Earth, even if it’s only to beam us up into space.


I should probably mention that some people’s reaction to Battles Mk. II has been less than complimentary: Darryl Zero, over at The Night-Day Machine, said he felt “indifferent” by the end of a recent live show, and describes the band “methodically plodd[ing] their way” through the new song “Futura”.

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