Machinedrum: Room(s) (Planet µ)
Travis Stewart’s latest full-length under his Machinedrum moniker is easily one of the best electronic — or perhaps, any genre — albums of the year. I was familiar with his early work which surfaced around the turn of the century with a hybrid of physical cut-ups and downtempo grooves, sometimes drawing comparisons to Scott Herren’s Prefuse 73 project at the time. But just as P73 has moved on from that abstracted hip-hop style, Machinedrum also finds himself in a very different musical place in 2011. For me the change is dramatic because I haven’t heard his music in some time, but it’s a breath of fresh air. Room(s) is a stunning intersection of everything happening in leftfield dance music, combining elements of juke, footwork, dubstep and garage. But what’s most striking about it is his ability to synthesize these trends with his own keen intuition, sculpting sound in a way that feels much more complex than the sum of its parts. The first couple of tracks work well as a combo starter, all revolving around looping vocal samples and fast footwork rhythm sections, but the plot thickens from there. First single “Sacred Frequencies” and what could be considered a sister track of sorts, “Come1,” begin to pull from other angles, combining post-rock loops and psychedelic samples with the same idyllic haze of Boards of Canada and their ilk. The rhythmic framework still ties in with the rest of the album, giving it a vibrant sense of variation and not so easily categorized. Often times Stewart manipulates vocal samples with auto-tune to suit his own devices, sounding like a livelier Burial. But he saves the best for last, with a prolonged comedown in the glorious fog of “Where Did We Go Wrong?” This may be somewhat of a sidestep for Machinedrum compared to most of what I’ve heard, and I’m unsure how it’s gone over with his fanbase, but it’s a strong contender for the album of the year. It’s so much bigger than the trends and genres he nicks left and right, towering over his peers past and present as his best material to date.