How to avoid the sophomore slump? Scrap the second album altogether

A year ago, the members of the experimental, largely instrumental math-rock band Battles faced a challenge that even their astounding technical wizardry might not help them overcome. Specifically, how to forge ahead as a three-piece following the departure of multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton, and what to do with the already completed tracks planned for their highly anticipated sophomore effort. “We could’ve easily been like, ‘Everything sucks, we’re cursed, this is a total pain in the ass,’ and felt bad for ourselves,” admits guitarist Dave Konopka.

He says the group had fallen into complacency when Braxton, drummer John Stanier and guitarist Ian Williams and he convened to write and record the follow-up to 2007’s Mirrored, an album that debuted to critical acclaim and a near-instantaneous cult following thanks to the pedigree of the players involved. (Stanier had been the longtime drummer for Helmet, while Williams played for influential math-rockers Don Caballero.) Work on the group’s second album trudged throughout the spring and summer of 2010, even though no one in the band liked the direction it was heading—or wanted to admit it. “What we had from the sessions when Tyondai was still involved was a very uninspired, lackluster approach to an album,” Konopka concedes.

So when Braxton ultimately left the band in August of last year, the remaining members started over—and emerged with the new Gloss Drop. A surprisingly accessible and effervescent effort given the hardships required to complete it, the album features guest vocals from the likes of synth-pop pioneer Gary Numan and Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino. But at its center remains the jaw-dropping musicianship of Konopka and company, who can veer wildly from progressive rock to metal to jazz-influenced instrumental breaks. “Audiences are way more sophisticated nowadays than even 10 years ago, in the sense of accepting weirder music,” Konopka says. “That’s a privilege we’re benefiting from, to have people interested in some more abstract forms of music.”

It’s a style that Konopka himself struggles to describe. “It’s totally contextual and depends on whom I’m talking to,” he says with a laugh. “There’s no right way to sum up Battles. It all comes back to the listener and how they interpret it. Everything’s working out fine, so no complaints here.”

–Jesse Thompson

comment closed

Copyright © 2011 M Music & Musicians Magazine ·