In retrospect, with its creative blend of footwork rhythms, atmospheric synths, and broken jungle beats, […]
In retrospect, with its creative blend of footwork rhythms, atmospheric synths, and broken jungle beats, Room(s), the 2011 album from Travis Stewart (a.k.a Machinedrum), was something of a breakthrough moment. Not only did it act as a refreshed statement of intent from Stewart, but its higher tempos and classic-rave-minded undertones went some way towards setting the tone for much of the underground dance music that would follow in the subsequent two years. Since its release, these key characteristics have become relatively common fare; the rough-edged sounds of hardcore are having an undoubtable nostalgic resurgence, and juke and jungle rhythms continue to crop up in clubs with increasing frequency. As such, having recently signed a four-album deal with Ninja Tune, there’s extra pressure on Stewart to follow up on his successes with some sort of progression. “Eyesdontlie” is the first taste of his forthcoming Vapor City LP, and it doesn’t disappoint, as both the title cut and the b-side build on the cinematic quality of Room(s) whilst being quite possibly deeper and more ambitious than anything we’ve heard from Stewart to date.
In its own understated sort of way, “Eyesdontlie” is something of a banger. It eases off the pace of Stewart’s previous LP ever so slightly, eschewing some of the footwork skittishness in favor of a rolling, continuous workout of throbbing jungle breaks. Furthermore, the track has a sort of ethereal quality, thanks to its slow washes of atmospheric synth and the endlessly looping, pitched-down vocal hook that wanders in and out of the grasp of a constantly shifting filter. Beneath the formant layers though, Stewart propels the composition with a devastatingly simple, relentless bassline and oddly anthemic snatches of muffled, dub-like vocals. The result is like trying to revisit the mood of some like classic rave, only the whole thing has been filtered through the haziness of sleep-deprived memories; “Eyesdontlie” wonderfully captures the point where dance-music nostalgia blends into a single unspecific wash of atmosphere and adrenaline.
Non-album b-side “Body Touch” finds Stewart on a slightly dubbier tip. Similar to its a-side counterpart, the track is built around a looped vocal, but the beat here is considerably more spacious and swaggering. Delayed snares and offbeat synth chords give the whole thing more of a swung, half-time feel, leaving space for a dense backdrop of low-end atmospherics and a slowly unfolding patchwork of melodic synth arpeggios and R&B backing vocals. Overall, it’s a more downbeat and pensive take on the formula, though it’s not lacking in energy. Needless to say, both tracks bode very well for Stewart’s more substantial forthcoming release.