Machinedrum: Room(s)
Planet Mu

There was a time when Travis Stewart's Machinedrum project could be seen as synonymous with the ultra-complex electronica associated with the Miami-based (and now defunct) label Merck, but no more: though his latest full-length, Room(s) appears on Plant Mu, the release perpetuates the dynamic electronic soul/deep house style he's been pursuing of late as one-half of Sepalcure (Praveen Sharma the other) on Hotflush recordings. Stewart brings the wide-ranging productions expertise he's developed over the past decade to eleven tracks that pair soulful vocal melodies with breakbeat structures that, rooted in garage, hip-hop, and house, roar with the kind of ferocious energy one associates with jungle. Despite the level of detail and polish that characterize the productions, Stewart completed the individual pieces with dispatch instead of working on them to excess, with the result tracks that sound fresh rather than laboured.

Representative of the album, “The Statue” and “Lay Me Down” manage to feel both frenetic and calm, as odd as that might sound, by pairing lightspeed beat patterns with vocal elements that Stewart presents in a dreamier and more laidback style; “Come1” and “Door(s)” are likewise dizzying in their blend of frenetic beatsmithing and vocal delirium. The general sense of exhilaration is bolstered by the feverish way lyrics such as “Out on the street you don't survive / Now is the time to be alive” are delivered in rambunctious beat workouts such as “U Don't Survive,” and by the amped-up BPM that makes a lightspeed raver such as “GBYE” feel as if Stewart's squared the tempo. Egged on by percolating bass rumble, the opening “She Died There” stokes an intricate funk groove, as it dizzies the listener with a trippy swirl of cut-up vocal effects, while “Now U Know Tha Deal 4 Real,” sprinkled with claps and illuminated with radiant chords, opts for a more garage-styled vibe in its jittery beat programming, while at the same time sneaks in a deep house flavour in its vocal part.

Instrumentally the material impresses in its wealth of instrument and sample sounds but even more for its repeatedly inventive vocal arrangements. Throughout the album, voices criss-cross in rapid formation, generating a sense of euphoria in the process (“Lay Me Down” one example of many). Room(s) finds Stewart's material teeming with imagination and a creative joy, and, as the album reaches its end, it becomes clear that much of it could easily pass for new Sepalcure material—not a bad thing.

June 2011