Machinedrum - Room(s) (Planet Mu; 2011)
I’m not a pirate anymore. One of the perks of writing for online music publications is you get promos - a guilt free link to albums that don’t see the light of day for another few months (some of which haven’t even leaked yet). So, hey, I’m not stealing. But skimming through an endless stream of promos can give rise to the same problematic listening habits the active music pirate runs into. The problems I’m talking about, admittedly, chuck out morality and take on an air of egregious entitlement. I’m aware of that. But when you’re downloading six or seven albums a day, some of those get lost in the shuffle with only half a listen to their name and a promise from the listener to return ASAP. But sometimes the listener gets sidetracked by Bon Iver and Shabazz Palaces, albums with a bit more acclaim and popularity surrounding them, and Machinedrum’s new album gets put off for about four months, as is the case for me with Room(s). It’s doubly unacceptable as the only thing that spurred me back to Room(s) was Travis Parker’s collaboration with Praveen Sharma, Sepalcure, which released its excellent debut a few weeks ago.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Even if it might as well be. Earlier last month, I was scouring the net for dance records I should have been on top of before deciding my favorites of 2011 for One Thirty BPM and Room(s) kept showing up. Low and behold it had been tossed aside at the bowels of my iTunes To Listen To playlist. It wasn’t until after Sepalcure became a sort of flash, sleeper hit that I made the connection between the two monikers in a very ummm…dur realization. So its with that viewpoint I was forced to approach both albums - unable to separate my immediate comparisons of one to the other. I’m sure the debate will rear its head in a more passive form at year end time when publications choose to list one over the other, but, for me, while I love Sepalcure to death, Room(s) is unlike anything I’ve ever listened to coming out of the bass music scene at large.
The obvious place to point is Room(s)’ footwork influence, though I think the album deserves more than a slew of subgenres thrown its way for description’s sake. Room(s) is an incredibly aggressive and visceral album - almost too technically furious and off-kilter in the percussion department to throw onto a dance floor, but it certainly makes the body move, there is no doubt. It becomes immediately apparent on opener “She Died There” that there’s a particular technical proficiency on display infused with pop-melody sensibility and contemporary bass trends. The skittering wood block percussion kicks the track off with spine-jerking precision while a hyper-chopped vocal sample fades in out of the vinyl crackling atmosphere. Things don’t really start pumping until the monolithic bass opens its jaws wide to provide a darkened, pervasive undercurrent like a river of bubbling oil.
Sepalcure is a more intricately detailed record than Room(s) and, perhaps, more graceful in its means of changing direction and tone mid-song. It’s also more dance-ready and immediate. I realize arguing which is better, might be a pointless exercise, and ultimately the two become very complimentary in their contrasting moods, but the comparison is interesting none the less. I personally gravitate toward Room(s) because of its broad strokes versus its idiosyncrasies (though it has them in volume). The way “Come 1” deconstructs itself from a wild, off-beat electric piano sample in a downhill plunge to a jazzy, chilled out pastoral cruise to a stew of beautifully melodic strings and wordless vocal coos is jaw-dropping and beautiful and fun. There’s a sense of actual adventure to that song.
Room(s) isn’t as abstract as Sepalcure and, for me, the individual songs have more immediate identities. I love its oppressive bass tones, which often contrast the light-speed pace with a submerged slo-mo physicality. Room(s)’ involved high-energy is more interesting than Sepalcure’s more digestible pace. Maybe because the former is something we don’t get a lot of in bass, especially with reference points such as Burial in play, but it could certainly just be the simple matter of my personal taste. Still, that doesn’t account for songs on Room(s) like “Lay Me Down” and outro “Where Did We Go Wrong,” which I could be convinced calling my two favorite on the album. “Lay Me Down” is a late-night auto-tuned R&B crooner filtered through Room(s) penchant for the expansive and dramatic. I’m always blown away when the bass blossoms like a concussion wave beneath the syncopated beat as the samples reset, reasserting itself as the synths ascend upward. And then “Where Did We Go Wrong” is easily the most beautiful ambient bass track since Burial’s “Endorphin,” finding one of the most tear-stained vocal samples I’ve ever heard. The track is like an apocalyptic city dissolving into the ocean as a broken radio loops its gorgeous vocal effigy. It’s magnificent. This album so quickly found its way into my heart. Something I can’t quite (yet?) say for Sepalcure or any bass record in recent memory.
—Will Ryan // December 4, 2011