Rating: 3.2/5.0

Label: Planet Mu

The loose fitting, rambunctious album Room(s) is an exercise in vocal sampling and European bass music. All 11 tracks belong to Travis Stewart, the man behind the name, but they can be whatever you want them to be: UK funky, deep house, juke. Armed heavily with bass colors, his dark R & B narrative moves vaguely through titles such as “She Died There,” “Now U Know Tha Deal 4 Real,” “Lay Me Down,” and “Where Did We Go Wrong?” Some of them are nods to the sampled vocals lines that are played with obnoxious but stylistically punishing instances of repetition. The unnamed vocal contributions are arranged with nu hyper-dub breed speed, doubling as elusive references to the unknown woes of Machinedrum, who does not directly address his listeners with his own set of vocal chords anywhere throughout. Instead, Machinedrum’s cheeky personality perpetuates the post-literate age/disease/pandemic/trend – whichever you deem it, however you find it – with his playful, bastardizing textual habits. He attaches numbers to words (“Come1”) and assigns multiple inconsistent laws of language (“U Don’t Survive” and “Youniverse”). The nuanced presentation of Machinedrum’s sound makes his world fun and different, giving insight into what is considered artistically “post” and what lives on limited vinyl and in the internet. Room(s) is an incisive LP, shortening the length of words in a way that expands on their capacity to stand for something, to signify, beckoning a close listen to its contents.

“She Died There” reaches dub-step and reggae pleasure zones with sourced vocals that come in and out against the MDMA throb of deep bass. Series of swollen “She died there/ She died there/ She died there” dribble and drown out only to surpass sea level again within an instant. The drop of a giant reverb lever enacts the oscillating stutters just above the flickering of quaint, electronic drum kit sequences. “Sacred Frequency” is a stand out number. Tiny explosions of synth-glitches and stumbling time signatures that start and stop on the bass end are the undeniable provocation of shoulder-rolling and getting low. Machinedrum reveals himself as full-grown and dynamic here and on “Come1.” Thrusty, boisterous bass drums and glitter-fied synth tones boast back and forth at each other. “Come1” is notably even more restless than the rest of Room(s) with the pumping out of a signature house-happy piano chord at uzi-rounding-off speeds, the octaves shifting from point blank ranges.

The paradoxically celebratory lounge-feel of “U Don’t Survive” is bump-worthy for well-endowed cars and clubs. It’s evidence too of Machinedrum’s ability to play up the bass frequencies until they dominate the mix or to use them as sultry anchors for his messy sketches of percussion, always present in each track. The pulse of the album is the primitive drum kits of deliberate design – cut up and chopped, they are the dainty spine of each song.

On Room(s) there exists the U.K. fascination with dub-step but there is also another Western flavor of hedonism that shines through too, beyond the murk of the album’s dark house tendencies like on the shadowy “Youniverse.” This is to say that like his contemporaries Zomby, FaltyDL and Hyetal, Machinedrum’s emotional spectrum is always backlit by an intoxicated, glistening confidence and idealism, one of two helixes in the DNA of club music. Machinedrum’s sound is the worry-less contentment, the kind that fills the air during after-hours, the kind that allows strangers to dance together. Even during a downcast moment like on “The Statue” or “She Died There,” Machinedrum is sharply irreverent to what is deeply melancholic, always bouncing back into himself and into the scene with glitchy reassurance and hip-hop-prescribed (-encouraged) folly. At the risk of coming off distracted, Stewart is interested in showing off, reaching into the pockets of hip-pop.

There’s no question that Stewart is a clever producer. Room(s) takes esteemed hacks at big beat and dub, but after 48 minutes of irregular pulsation and macheted anonymous erotic vocals, a full-length album might not be the best medium for artists like Machinedrum to uphold and demonstrate their ideas. While those making music within the dub and glitch realm favor studio time and usually enjoy a producer’s orientation to the world, an hour of material is not necessarily the route every artist of every walk needs to take. Short bursts of focus and attention – the kind a single track or an EP can offer – is better for what is hyperactive sonically, for what is already compacted and angular. Machinedrum is to be broken up to bits and swallowed in small doses.

by Sky Madden

Key Tracks: Sacred Frequency, Come1

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