The prolific and largely under-appreciated Travis Stewart, aka Machinedrum, returns with his landmark 20th album release under this particular moniker.
No stranger to hopping between the many different sub-genres that fall under the vast umbrella of electronica, Stewart again takes a different direction with ‘Human Energy’. Following from his from his 2013 release ‘Vapor City’, ‘Human Energy’ sees Stewart taking a more ‘poppy’ and upbeat direction on the album, compared to some of his previous works (see 2011’s ‘Rooms’ for particular reference).
Having said this, from the first few tracks, it is clear that you are listening to a Machinedrum record, with definite footwork, juke and glitch influences apparent here. Stewart manages to take a fresh approach while keeping some of his trademark sounds, as uplifting bouncy synths fill the spectrum with popping percussion and rolling snares following suit. As usual, Stewart’s synth work is second to none, creating unique and captivating sounds for each track. One particular synth that stands out is the almost church organ like chords that start off ‘Etheric Body Temple’.
There are some definite references to other worldly experiences and feelings on the album, with ‘Angel Speak’ featuring rapper MeLo-X being a particularly interesting track. Stewart’s crisp synth work here is matched with trumpets, soft vocal slices, as well as MeLo-X’s own little vocal hooks.
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In addition to MeLo-X, Stewart boasts many different collaborations on the album. The likes of Rochelle Jordan, Tosin Abasi and D∆WN offer unique contributions. Stewart’s manipulation and processing of the vocals combined with his intricate production and drum programming on the track ‘Do it 4 U’ featuring D∆WN, manages to strike a nice balance between experimental electronica and pop.
It may be questioned whether Stewart over processes the vocal contributions on the album on a couple of tracks, to the point where they sound like they could simply be sampled vocal snippets from random sources. This in turn makes them sound like many of Stewart’s previous tracks, and thus may represent a smaller step in a new direction.
The album maintains the highly energetic and euphoric mood that its title suggests, with there being only a few moments of calm. Tracks such as ‘Surfed Out’ and ‘Ocean of Thought’ show Stewart’s more ambient productions, with the latter of those two tracks sounding like a cut from a Boards of Canada album. However, there is no shortage of energy throughout ‘Human Energy’, something that makes this an enjoyable album to listen to. Although it marks a different direction for Machinedrum, the LP shows that Stewart’s best work may still be yet to come.