Since US-based electronic producer Travis Stewart first emerged back in 2001 with his debut album as Machinedrum on Merck ‘Now You Know’, he’s become something of a familiar figure to post-IDM listeners, going on to spend the next decade releasing a steady slew of albums under the aforementioned alias, as well as Syndrone, Tstewart and Sepalcure. This latest longplayer on Planet Mu ‘Room(s)’ offers up his eighth album under the Machinedrum alias, and the eleven tracks collected here see him falling particularly under the spell of the emerging Chicago footworkin’ / juke scene and the possibilities offered by its complex, hyper-syncopated drum machine rhythms. Like labelmate Chrissy Murderbot though, he’s not really interested in the juke subgenre as an end in itself, but rather as an additional new stylistic element to add to his aesthetic palette, and indeed it’s intriguing to see how oddly calming the signature stuttering footwork rhythms come across when swathed in the post-rave and classic junglist sounds Stewart surrounds them with here. There’s a distinctly post-Burial feel to opening track ‘She Died There’ as a clicking off-centre garage-house pulse builds beneath swathes of grainy ambient pads, semi-intelligible pitch-shifted male vocals that recall the machine-androgyny of the aforementioned influence’s ‘Archangel’ and wobbling post-dubstep swells of sub-bass, the 808 toms blasting away at the very edges of the mix.
By comparison, ‘Now U Know Tha Deal 4 Real’ sees things venturing down into moodier electro territory as flexing breakbeats stutter and kick against a smooth backdrop of sheeny soul synths, juddering bass arpeggiation and cut-up female soul diva vocals, the addition of subtle melodica-like tones slowly introducing a warmer, dubbier feel towards the end, before the rattling ‘U Don’t Survive’ conjures up images of a night-time car chase as clattering, garage-tinged drum rhythms power against bright glimmering synths, soul keys and autotuned male vocals in a manner that calls to mind the smooth roll of classic jungle like Omni Trio and Moving Shadow. Elsewhere, the glittering ‘GBYE’ sees the more overt juke elements shifting back to the forefront as machine-gun 808 runs rattle against androgynous cut-up and pitchshifted vocals and sheeny-sounding rave stabs, but what’s particularly notable is the amount of space Stewart manages to maintain amongst so many crammed, busy textures. While the shadow of Burial looms large here (particularly in the pitchshifted androgynous vocal samples), this is impressive and inspired stuff.