Album review: Machinedrum, “Vapor City Archives”
BY CAMERON SEIBOLD
“Vapor City Archives” is the final part of a project by artist Travis Stewart, AKA Machinedrum. The project is based off of a number of vivid recurring dreams Stewart had about a fictional city. Each track on the main release of the series “Vapor City” represented a different district of the fictional dream city.
Soon after the album’s release, an interactive website was launched allowing fans to ‘unlock’ the various districts of Vapor City, granting them access to exclusive content and unheard music. Unfortunately, this final part of the series, while still a solid listen, largely re-hashes stems and ideas from the previous releases in the series with few innovations.
Machinedrum is well-known for incorporating juke and jungle elements into his songs. Tracks like “2 B Luvd,” “Boxoff,” and “Only 1 way 2 know” are all straight forward Machinedrum songs that embody his well-known style of rolling juke/jungle. That being said, they feel so similar to other tracks he has already made that there really isn’t much to be gained here.
On first listen I felt like I had already heard them and knew what was coming at every turn.
Even though tracks “Hard 2 Be” with it’s scattering Rashad style percussion and “Safed” with it’s gorgeous guitar fingerpicking are essentially the same style, they are far more solid as stand-alone tracks. They still sound very similar to Vapor City, but they bring a few new elements that make it worthwhile to stick around for.
Tracks “Vizion (Centered),” “Endless <3,” and “Tried & True” are all on the sci-fi ambient soundtrack side of Machinedrum, filled with lush atmospheric synth swells, vintage arpeggios, and ghostly vocals. These Machinedrums cuts often remind me of a mixture of Burial, Boards of Canada, and Vangelis.
“B Patient” makes an attempt at a sparse bassweight style of dubstep, but ultimately comes up a little lackluster. The passages of warping bass, sparse percussion and atmospheric clicks just don’t seem to match up with the more uplifting sections of Burial style vocals chanting “hold on” and warm fuzzy synths, and the unfortunate pairing really waters down both sections.
“More than Friends” is a definite change of pace for “Archives.” The poppy synthetic vocals are definitely reminiscent of artists on up-and-coming electronic label “PC music,” and the trademark Machinedrum breaks and guitar picking hold it together as a pretty solid track that differentiates itself from anything else in the “Vapor” series.
Almost every song on this release is similar to another track on the main “Vapor City” release, from the Burial-esc off-kilter percussion, pitched down 80’s vocal samples, and juke and jungle style percussion, it’s all still mostly the same. There are many recycled elements from one release to the next with a few exceptions. However, a Machinedrum track is still a Machinedrum track, and even the tracks that aren’t as exciting or innovative are still technically good, and are a welcome addition to Machinedrum’s large library of music.
“Vapor City Archives” by Machinedrum was released Nov. 11, and is available from the label Ninja Tune.
For fans of: Boards of Canada, Burial, footwork, jungle.