Last night Battles played at Solus, Cardiff to promote their new album, Gloss Drop. After hearing that they would only be playing songs from the new album I was a bit apprehensive of going. Before I talk about Battles and the two support bands - Truckers Of Husk and Islet - I’ll say that the venue was great. I’d never been to the Solus before but the sound was great throughout the gig and was a decent size. I hadn’t listened to any of the support acts before coming so was looking forward to hearing them, hopefully discovering a new gem.
The first band to perform were the first of two local support acts, Truckers Of Husk. They had the vanilla band set up of two guitarists, bassist, keyboardist and drummer. They played through a set of mainly instrumental tracks with random outbursts of vocals, mainly from the drummer. I’d describe their sound as a more upbeat Foals, or an indie Tortoise. They all played their instruments extremely well; even though it was obvious who their influences where they sounded original and made great use of samples and keyboard fills to punctuate the strong bass lines and wandering guitar. The drums tied it all together perfectly with the drum beats really standing rather than just keeping time. The band - especially the drummer - played with such passion and furor that is rare in a band like this. They were my standout band of the night. It’s an interest point as well that they were the only band to have prepared a set list.
Up next were 4 piece band (although they had a fifth member tonight) Islet. The stage was set up with two drumkits, two keyboard stands and a bass and guitar. I did not know what to expect from this, and rightly so. I can’t really describe what I saw last night, and it’s making me feel like I don’t understand current music at the moment. All the songs were based around the power of multiple percussionists with stabs of synth and guitar trying to come up for air amongst the pounding. There were moments where I thought it was about to get good, but the songs always resulted in the band just beating the crap out of their equipment for the sake of noise. I’ve looked them up since the gig and there is a lot of hype surrounding this band so I will try and give them another listen, but last night I did not get it at all. One thing I do have to say as a positive is that it was different, and I have never seen a band play with such energy and force; they were a real unit.
After the confusion caused by Islet, the stage was being cleared and being prepared for Battles to come on. I was pleased to see that the band members themselves were actually helping set up their equipment, which is a rarity these days. The band come out to start, with the drums at the front of the stage along with the other instruments. With the 6 foot crash cymbal stand aloft in pure Battles style, I was excited to see the headline band for the first time that night. That excitement quickly waned.
What I saw last night was a once great band become boring at the expense of losing a band member. The only thing that made the experience worthwhile was the drumming of John Stanier. I’ll just say, I’ve never seen anyone sweat so much as that man last night; his jeans where soaked through. He played with such force and speed that it was mesmerizing to watch as the sticks became an extension of his hands, both becoming a blur amongst the rhythm. Too see what that man can do with such a small drumkit was worth the ticket price alone. Unfortunately, the two remaining members of the band did not give me the same feeling. Guitarist Dave Konopka was doing all could to create the wall of sound that former guitarist and singer - Tyondai Braxton - would have assisted with. Due to a lack of bodies this has resulted in Battles relying on loops and delays and this has made their sound very repetitive. It was odd in seeing that he was doing all the work whilst final member Ian Williams, was usually just standing around, dancing, and occasionally playing keyboards and samples from pads.
Due to Gloss Drop having guest singers on most of the tracks, they had to fill in the vocals by playing videos of the screens behind them of the singers to go with the right track. This didn’t work at all and they were often out of time, coming in on the wrong songs or just turning off during the middle of a verse. The entire performance just felt messy, and the lack of any songs pre Gloss Drop was a huge disappointment. An even bigger disappointment was that in between songs they would hint at riffs or drum beats from the first album, but not follow them through. I felt this was a rather ignorant seeing as Gloss Drop hasn’t even been out a month yet, and for a band with only two albums and a handful of EPs under their belt you would expect to hear some stuff your familiar with.
Throughout the set the band did not feel like a singular unit. They genuinely looked pissed off with each other at times, and I’m going to call it now that they will split up soon. For the music they create the are lacking the amount of musicians needed. I don’t know wether they are too proud to have a touring guitarist, or if there are any legal barriers that are stopping them playing anything from first album Mirrored, but they do not perform at their well with the current material. I just hope that - and if - they get around to putting out a third album and remind me of why I fell in love with them in the first place.