When it comes to New York based contemporary beatsmiths, few are as versatile, prolific and innovative as Travis Stewart, aka Machinedrum. For more than a decade he has produced and composed in a variety of different genres, from hip hop, IDM to various mutations of bass music. His latest release Room(s), brought to us by Planet Mu, is by far the best blend of all his numerous styles.
It’s important to note that Stewart always does his homework when taking on his own interpretation of an electronic music sub genre. While previous Machinedrum releases such as his 2009 album Want to 1 2? explored the glitchy, mechanical yet soulful side of New York hip hop, Room(s) is a brand new direction for him, as he noticeably draws inspiration from UK garage and Chicago’s speed-demon dance music subgenre, footwork. Right out of the gates, the opening track “She Died There” launches you into a sub bass booming dream sequence with pummeling, slanted rhythms and mysterious, ghostly vocal samples. This opening track is genre-defying, to say the least. It’s not footwork. It’s not dubstep. It’s not garage. It’s not hip hop. It’s not R&B. It’s not rave. It’s Machinedrum.
While previous Stewart releases such as his work with Praveen Sharma as Sepalcure have more laid back, deep grooves, Room(s) comes across as a fast, momentous journey. The entire album sounds like a polygraph going berserk to Harrison Ford’s Replican empathy test in Blade Runner. From beginning to end, Room(s) has a sense of tension that never gets fully resolved, rather it keeps switching, modulating and propelling farther and farther to somewhere outside of our atmosphere. That said, despite being a synthetic voyage, there is soul in this machine. The chopped up R&B samples and Stewart’s own aethereal voice throughout the album communicates an encoded message sent from a broken satellite. The encrypted stories in each song on Room(s) are open to your own personal interpretation and computing.
Some of the vocals I could do without, however, and would rather hear the instrumentals breathe. I feel like “Where Did We Go Wrong” glows without them. At the same time, vocals on a song like “Come1″ — my favorite song on the album — transform a dope beat into a downright awesome song. I would love to hear more songs within that direction. To be able to seamlessly combine so many genres, from folk music, ambient, dubstep, juke, garage, drum and bass and roll them into one unique, distinct track is an incredible feat without coming across as contrived. “Come1″ is simply a great song true to the spirit of its influences. Regardless, I’d be interested in hearing instrumental versions of all of the tracks on this record.
“Door(s)” initially made me anxious when I first heard it, but then the title itself began to strike imagination. When I was on the subway listening to this for the 3rd time, I imagined entering the next subway car to this track, finding myself in another world. A new dimension? A new planet? A dream? The future? It’s unclear. Fortunately though, you never feel “trapped” in a loop with this track like listening to a 20 minute Radio Slave or Ricardo Villalobos tune; it’s more like riding in a centrifuge that broke free and launched into orbit.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one else sounds like Machinedrum on this album. To me, Room(s) is Stewart’s best effort when it comes to articulating his life experience in quirky, mysterious, synthetic and soulful modern pop songs.