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[LuckyMe; 2012]

By ; February 27, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

2011 was a momentous year for Travis Stewart. Having released Room(s) under his Machinedrum moniker in June, he teamed up with Praveen Sharma (Braille) for the eponymous Sepalcure in December. Both are excellent albums, which have moved the producer into the spotlight. It’s about time; he can lay claim to some of the most exciting productions around, his releases more often than not spearheading the ‘alternative’ dance music movement in many of its guises. Listen to some of Stewart’s older output on shuffle and you could be treated to glitch-hop, eerie atmospherics, straight up house, and big, fat beats in quick succession. Although his transitions have been gradual, much of his work has felt a half-step ahead of the game.

Since recently moving to Berlin, Stewart’s bass ideology appears to have temporarily aligned with the current UK scene. SXLND, his latest release, reworks the clipped vocals Stewart had borrowed from the Burial revolution for Room(s) and Sepalcure and pits them against club-ready bass in various different forms. Sadly, the considered and unified theme so apparent in both last year’s efforts is absent, and this scattergun approach is the EP’s biggest downfall. There is plenty of quality on offer on SXLND, but it doesn’t quite work as a whole, which is a disappointment.

You may already know the title track as the beat beneath Azealia Banks’ recent homage to Aaliyah, “NEEDSUMLUV.” This is an example of the problem; Machinedrum is a name synonymous with staying ahead of the curve; hearing someone like Azealia astride his music feels wrong somehow. Ultimately, without Banks, it feels like an offcut from the Room(s) sessions, not quite in keeping with the rich footwork which was so popular last summer.

Unfortunately this theme recurs throughout SXLND. “Van Vogue,” for instance, suffers for its brevity as much as its aimless skittering, especially when set after the six-minute highlight “No Respect” and before the straight up hands-in-the-air-house of “DDD.” These better efforts tread a similar path to Stewart’s work in Sepalcure with some defining changes; the hazy vocals survive but the choppy tension of that album is replaced by thumping four-to-the-floor beats. Whether this is a good thing is up for debate, but the issue here is that this feels like an extension of, rather than a progression from, last years’ brilliant work.

It’s not that the songs on offer here are overtly worse than the material on his previous full length efforts; they just don’t gel together. Essentially the EP fails to sit comfortably next to the brilliance of last year, falling between two high stools when considered as a body of work. On first impression SXLND is difficult to companion with any of his more cohesive material because it follows what has come before, rather than trailblazing as we’re used to. Lacking in his customary foresight, the EP could disappoint those expecting yet another surprise from the genre-hopping master.

However, perhaps it is unfair to hold SXLND by the very high standards set by Stewart in the last year. Sure, it feels cobbled-together, with one eye firmly pointing backward, bringing precious little to the party, but whether you hear it as a collection of finished half-ideas and offcuts from sessions last year, a taster for the uninitiated, or simply a collection of songs ready for the club, SXLND at least provides yet more proof of Machinedrum’s supremely eclectic style.


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