Machinedrum, Vapor City
Revealing more of the man behind Machinedrum than ever before
If producer Travis Stewart is known for one thing, it’s for consistently confounding expectations. Whether working in precision-tooled electronica, abstract hip-hop, cosmic house, jungle, footwork or — most recently — together with nu-disco don Jimmy Edgar as Jets, the North Carolinian veteran has always broken the moulds others choose to make with his adventurous creativity.
His shape-shifting first album for Ninja Tune reveals more of the man behind Machinedrum than before. It belongs to the imaginary soundtrack genus, but is an intriguingly personal species, inspired by Stewart’s vivid, recurring dream over several years of a metropolis that he can describe in detail, district by named district.
Following someone else’s phantasmagoria, however well mapped, is a big ask, but this record stands independent of its origins. On opening track “Gunshotta,” the producer reconnects with his love of footwork, softening its trademark frantic and sharp-edged polyrhythms with a molten dread more typical of post-dubstep, while “Infinite Us” and “Dont 1 2 Lose U” blossom into lush, deep vocal house tunes, establishing the album’s dominant blissed-out vibe without shifting their bedrock of crisp beats.
This dazed sensuality suggests that Machinedrum was raised on the Café del Mar compilation series and that mood seeps through much of Vapor City, the flickering mesh of chillwave and samba-tronica that is “SeeSea” marking its peak. If the gauzy, sun-glazed effect does slightly stupefy over ten tracks, then the ragga-inflected “Rise N Fall” and slow-burn, glitch-soul closer “Baby Its U” are proof that Machinedrum knows precisely when to ring the mood changes.