Machinedrum : 3FOR82

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Machinedrum 3For82 review

It could be argued that the world’s best artistic creations are not the result of so-called limitless imagination but are instead the product of imagination within particular imposed limits. Great manipulators of shape and color to infer specific ideas end up designing timeless logos, for example. Great distributors of dots become impressionist masters, while great stewards of alphabets literally write their own tickets. On hearing the limits that Travis Stewart placed on himself while making 3FOR82, his 13th album as Machinedrum, one can’t help but be floored by the results.

After years of boutique releases, Machinedrum hit a sweet spot of critical relevance in the early 2010s, traversing the Hotflush, Planet Mu, and Ninja Tune labels and culminating with the musical architecture of Vapor City in 2013. He’s spent the decade after that portrayed as an electronica generalist, in particular on 2020’s A View of U. As he was turning 41 (the album title is a play on the European notation of his birthday), Stewart isolated himself for a month to revisit and replay sounds he’d made with long-dead software. The tracks he built there for 3FOR82 led to filmed discussions with vocalists who were directed to write and perform either to or as their younger selves.

So much effort to make sounding hard sound so effortless. 3FOR82 ends up mimicking a killer mixtape, showcasing skilled young artists who run with Machinedrum’s experienced soundtracks to describe an existence maybe not kinder or gentler, but at a minimum more self-affirming. The messages range from ego-stroking like “I hop on your song then they call the morgue / Done being humble bitch not no more” (Topaz Jones and Ezri in “RESPEK”) to acknowledgment of complicated realities such as “​​I’ll be okay if I’m in pain and out of money / Good friends make the bad times funny” (Rozet in “Rise”).

This isn’t to suggest that Stewart’s productions take a back seat to his selected singers and spitters. The tracklist refers to past paths like ambient dub with “GODOWN” and drum and bass with a whole mess of songs like “ZOOM” and “HON3Y.” It also credibly peers into the future, as cuts like “U_WANT” and “WEARY” offering Machinedrum’s visions of hyperpop and trap, respectively. Sequenced in a uniquely logical and unified manner, 3FOR82 drives home just how important his presence on the scene has been in retrospect.

Label: Ninja Tune

Year: 2024

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Machinedrum: 3FOR82

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