Travis Stewart is a tireless musician, but his prodigious output is also his Achilles’ heel. Pouring himself into the Machinedrum project has served Stewart well over the past five years or so, as he became one of Ninja Tune‘s best known and beloved artists on the back of 2013’s memorable Vapor City LP. But his success has allowed him to inundate excitable fans with music, and Stewart is a poor self-editor. His Vapor City Archives record is the culmination of a year spent stretching an album cycle to its limits with a world tour, multiple EPs, an interactive website, a digital subscription service, and just about every other trick in the marketing book. So there’s precious little he can share that we haven’t already heard in a variety of forms.
Though he’s dabbled in hip-hop, IDM, and house, Machinedrum hasn’t really switched up his sound since he discovered Chicago’s fertile juke and footwork scene. Room(s) from 2011 was the first LP to fully manifest the style that has come to define Stewart’s solo output—whiplash tempos, 808 drums, heavy bass, bright synths, and loads of Burial-like vocal samples. To this formula, Vapor City added acoustic guitar, Amen breaks, and the producer’s own voice. Once a mercurial experimentalist, Machinedrum now refines what’s already there, an approach certain electronic artists would do well to follow. So it’s no surprise Vapor City Archives operates on that wavelength. But where the two previous albums were drawn from different sessions, this 10-song collection is culled from the same material as its namesake. The quality gives Archives a lingering sense of déjà vu; even if the tracks don’t sound exactly like their Vapor City counterparts, they sure as hell remind you of them.
To his credit, though, Machinedrum does fit a few updates into the tracklist. “B Patient”, for example, juggles speaker-toasting bassweight and a cloud of emotive guitar and vocal figures with reinvigorated flair. Then there are the fizzy vocal hooks and dayglo pads of “More Than Friends”, which make a great case for Stewart taking his breezy jungle/footwork concoction into the dance-pop realm. On the other hand, “Hard 2 Be”‘s choppy synth stabs and tumbling drum patterns are dead ringers for a handful of the hyped-up singles on Sepalcure, the eponymous 2011 album from Machinedrum’s and Praveen Sharma’s collaborative project. “Vizion (Centered)” is the most blatantly recycled of the bunch, a near facsimile of Vapor City‘s mid-album interlude in both name and mood. Flawlessly produced and unmistakable as it is, Vapor City Archives repurposes sounds and ideas from across Stewart’s repertoire, setting up well-versed fans to trainspot similarities over any kind of immersive listening.
If the abundance of music Machinedrum has put his name on in the past year is any indication, he could probably make these kinds of wistful, breaks-addled, post-dubstep/footwork/bass music hybrids while he files his taxes or cooks a nice dinner. Stewart’s increased output and dearth of exploration gives Archives an unflattering offhandedness, and it also dilutes the potency of Vapor City, like putting together an album is just another item to mark off his to-do list.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1rgNPdq