Battles Plan

After a wave of setbacks, the experimental rockers carry on

Success can change you, even at that lower level of mass consciousness where Battles operate. Just ask the spurting, burbling, electronic-addled NYC math-rock band, which generated tons of buzz for its 2007 debut album, Mirrored.

But because of tour stress, heightened expectations, or simply souring chemistry, something that worked so well the first time around wasn't working during the recording of their follow-up record. Writing music was a struggle. Then guitarist, keyboardist, and founding member Tyondai Braxton quit midway through the sessions, leaving behind the question of how — or even if — the rest of the band should go forward.

The mostly instrumental Battles decided to forge on by stripping all of Braxton's tracks from Gloss Drop and rewriting the album as a trio. It was a case of fewer cooks in the kitchen, resulting in a more focused meal, says guitarist and bassist Dave Konopka (pictured, right). "We were trying to write the album, and you could just tell that not everyone was on board with the direction we were going," he says. "Everything we were doing seemed like a compromise — a compromise to the point where none of us really liked where we were headed."

The band's spooky, detailed latticeworks of sound remain intact on Gloss Drop, but they're deployed with more restraint. Konopka confesses that the band felt a lot of pressure to step up in light of all the new attention put on them after Mirrored hit. Looking back, he feels they may have tried too hard to make it "arty," but after the initial stumbles to get Gloss Drop off the ground, they felt a renewed sense of purpose, allowing for more playful, joyful undertones.

"[We] were focused on making an album that was interesting and fun, and not so serious and pretentious — maybe even a little more accessible," says Konopka. "We were having such a hard time. I think we were living vicariously through the light at the end of the tunnel by not dwelling on the dark shit and trying to focus on the more enjoyable side of being in the band."

Once they started reworking the new songs, the band found four that were strong enough to support guest vocalists, and so they invited new wave legend Gary Numan, Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino, Yamantaka Eye of the Boredoms, and Chilean dance producer Matias Aguayo to the party. Their voices operate more like instruments than narrative elements. "We were really conscientious about trying to make sure it still [sounded like] a Battles song," says Konopka.

Battles spent most of the summer playing European festivals. They're now back in the states, ready to show off their newly honed skills as a three-piece unit. "We've progressed as a band considerably since making the album," says Konopka. "I like where we're at. It's a better version of Battles."