Machinedrum – ‘Vapor City’ (Ninja Tune)

Travis Stewart’s evolution began way before Room(s): cast your ears back to some of his earlier work under his now renowned Machinedrum alias and you’ll hear many of the elements that characterise his work today. Those lonely vocal samples weaved in between butchered drum pads, each fighting their way through abstract arrangements – all of which are a reflection of the producer’s varied musical tastes, which, in turn have created an array of multiple production personalities. Stewart’s relentless output has created a solid omnipresence, presenting itself in the form of collaborative projects Sepalcure and Jets with Praveen Sharma and Jimmy Edgar respectively. Then there was the brilliant SXLND EP released on Luckyme, which was skilfully hijacked by Azealia Banks, who pretty much consumed the whole thing by wrapping her dainty little opinions around each track, Van Voguing everywhere in the process.

Vapor City is certainly reflective of those moments, but not so much that it sounds repetitive. One of the things that make Stuart such a versatile producer is his ability to re-create using the same musical formulae without losing any substance, something that is made clear on the single ‘Gunshotta’ where Stuart re-visits that avant-garde jungle blueprint, constructing a wave of shard-like synths around contrasting vocal samples and ADHD drums. This and the racing footwork of ‘Eyesdontlie’ evoke the some of darker imagery on the record – Stuart created a concept for this album, whereby each track is representative of a different district in a city that appeared in a reoccurring dream of his. If ‘Gunshotta’ and ‘Eyesdontlie’ are the ominous, dismal streets of a vast, consuming city then, by contrast, the saccharine sounds of ‘Infinite Us’ with its rolling piano arpeggios racing towards an explosive crescendo on the back of Formula One percussion is serene, sunny suburbia.

This fluidity remains throughout, the chopping and changing between the luminescence of tracks ‘Seesea’ and ‘U Still Lie’ and some of the album’s more conservative moments, namely the droning ‘Vizion’ make for a coherent and well balanced record. Stewart’s fantastic sense of musicianship ensures that this is something you’ll want to re-visit, be it in your front room or on the dance floor. That is exactly why Vapor City is such a refreshing record: it has the type of staying power that most electronic producers can only dream of sustaining on one LP, although, thankfully the record doesn’t take itself anywhere near as seriously as the concept implies. He may still be evolving, but Stewart hasn’t forgotten the fundamentals that make his music so accessible. An impressive quality in any musician really.

‘Vapor City’ is out now on Ninja Tune

Lucinda Runham