The Albums of 2011 – #2 Machinedrum – Room(s)
It would seem that Travis Stewart, aka Machinedrum, has been putting out music for over a decade, so I’ve clearly been remiss that he hasn’t appeared on my radar until the last 12 months or so. Admittedly this isn’t my choice for #1 album of the year, but I can honestly say it’s definitely the one I’ve listened to most of all since it came out in the middle of the Summer.
Earlier works under the Machinedrum moniker, or even in his collaborative guise as half of Sepalcure appear to be very much rooted in dubstep or abstract hip-hop flavoured bass experiments, but Room(s) is an altogether different sound. Clocking in at around 150bpm, it’s significantly faster and fleet-footed. Someone of my long-toothed age can remember the time when hardcore rave music started getting a bit faster and eventually morphed into jungle: a similar parallel could be drawn here as the dubstep influenced sounds have accelerated into the sphere of what is known as Juke. In all honesty, up to this point I had abhorred any juke music that I’d heard – stripped down frenetic syncopated percussion with little melodic or musical merit, it sounded to these ears like somebody had accidentally played the Chicago house records of Dancemania and Relief records at the wrong speed. Much vaunted artists’ output like that of DJ Rashad (ironically also released on Planet Mu) was simply not doing it for me. Room(s) however is something hugely evolved, and I think a hugely significant point in that electronic music historians will look back upon as a turning point for not only the Juke sound, but dance music for the next 4 or 5 years.
As spartan and coarse as Chicago juke & footwurk sounds are, Machinedrum’s album is just as warm, layered, and eminently listenable. Bringing perhaps a more “overground” musical sensibility to the template, some writers have even been so bold as to accuse Machinedrum of making a Pop Album. Pop it ain’t, but accessible it certainly is. Aggression is replaced by a slightly mournful aesthetic- nearly every tune features looped samples of hauntingly distant and tender vocal refrains.
It is a cliche of sorts, but there’s no other way to say it – Machinedrum has “done a Burial.” What does that mean, I hear you ask? Well, dubstep music was almost uniformly entrenched in sonic impact and dancefloor momentum – then Burial came along and came up with something that was almost the polar opposite: a requiem for hazy half-forgotten memories that were haunted by echoes of ravey refrains. Interenet wags quickly came to joke about how it was music for “nightbuses in the rain, on the way home from Fabric, hood up and headphones on.” The Burial sound was so profoundly unique that entire genres of music have evolved from that one seed: indeed, I’ve posted several of my own mixes on this here blog under the tag “Ghoststep” – evidently its a sound I’m quite the fan of. Getting back on point – the magic of both Burial and Machinedrum’s music has been that whilst these tunes are perfect to wind down & relax to, they can just as easily be deployed in the club environment and smash the crowd to pieces.
I’m blithering on really, and there shouldn’t have been this much to say. Upon first listen it reminded me of some one trying (and not quite succeeding) to make old school hardcore, by the curious second listen I was appreciating the texture and depth below the surface, by my third I was emailing and tweeting to anyone who’s attention I could get that they really had to track down and listen to this album.
Machinedrum – Room(s) is an outstanding and unprecedented work of beauty & energy whilst similarly conveying a mature, profound sense of emotion & loss. Luckily enough, you can listen to it in it’s entirety on the Planet Mu website.
No track could be accused of being better than the rest on this album, but you may enjoy listening to She Died Here:
Tomorrow I shall unveil the Clockwork Shorts Album of the Year 2011. Cool yer boots until then.
The Clockwork Shorts 2011 retrospective can be browsed for your pleasure right HERE